I know that sounds like a silly question. I mean, what administrator in their right time would coordinate not one but two IEP meetings, especially considering how many different folks it would impact, changes in schedules, etc. No way schools would do something so disingenuous as meet about a student without disclosing the meeting or telling the parents, and it would certainly be unconscionable for them to put a plan together for your child without your input, right? Even if they did, they wouldn’t be unethical enough to lie about it, would they?

The answer to all of those questions is “unfortunately, yes.” Many times IEP teams hold a “pre-meeting” right before the IEP occurs to discuss strategy and get all staff on the same side. Many times the school knows what they want before you come to the table and involves the parents just enough to sell them on their idea or draw out their objections, which they then work on overcoming by the next meeting. In many ways the IEP process has become more about resource management than actual education.

How can you tell if this is happening to you? Watch the people at the table. Again, this is where you need another person at the table with you. You need someone else watching faces as you do. My wife and I always pick different vantage points. One of us sits at the head of the table and the other sits on the side. This lets us see everyone. Also, two people are harder to bully, which is a key tactic many administrators use.  If you see exchanged glances, or disapproval from a school administrator when someone speaks out against “the plan” then you know the school has a hidden agenda.

Wrightslaw has a pretty good blog post with additional links about program preselection. It has some school board posts on predetermination, how to avoid it and the like. In fact, the blog post Yee Haw, Howdy, Amen. Avoiding Claims of Predetermination in Special Ed Cases says “While school folks can engage in activities to prepare for an ARD committee meeting, if you predetermine the outcome of that meeting, you’ve crossed the legal line and leave the school district legally vulnerable.”

How vulnerable? Well, a school district in Tennessee was sued and lost because they not only refused to provide services, they also preselected the services they would offer a child. Imagine you’re a school administrator. Then, in a world of tightening budgets, you spend a fortune on legal defense only to find out you were wrong and will have to provide the services anyway but also make a large cash payment to the family you wronged? What if you did that to a bunch of families, and they all won a case against you? What would that do to your school district? How would it impact the other students you are obligated to serve?

Let’s be clear. The school can meet to discuss your child. They cannot, however, predetermine any services for him or her. If they come to the table with a pretyped plan, or say “we have been talking about it and this is what we have decided” you should be very careful. Ask questions and don’t sign anything. Understand that there are many teachers and school officials that mean well and have not been well schooled in what they can and cannot do, so it could be an honest mistake. However, if you get the feeling that the school has a very different vision for your child’s education that is much less inclusive and supportive, refuse to sign anything and get some legal help.