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I can’t take off work to go to the IEP meeting. What should I do?

By Miriam Nunberg, Esq., EdM

Question: My son’s school scheduled the IEP meeting during the middle of the day. I have a full-time job and can’t just take off. What should I do?

Answer:

It’s always hard to balance work and family, especially when you have a child who learns and thinks differently. And with certain jobs, taking off work during the day isn’t an option at all.

It can be stressful and upsetting not to be able to attend your child’s IEP meeting . Under the special education law IDEA , you’re a member of your child’s IEP team . So even if you can’t make the annual meeting, you still play an important role in developing the IEP .

But there are things you can do to keep your place at the table. The first thing you can do if you have a full-time job with benefits is speak to your job’s human resources department. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor issued an opinion letter saying that parents and guardians can use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) intermittently to attend IEP meetings. Talk with the human resources representative at your job to see if you are eligible to take FMLA leave.

The law requires schools to make every effort to work with your schedule. When your district schedules the IEP meeting, it must do these three things:

  1. Tell you far enough ahead of time to allow you to attend.

  2. Schedule the meeting at a time and place that works for you and the school.

  3. Reschedule the meeting if you cannot attend.

If you can’t make the original meeting time, write to the school to ask to reschedule for a time when you can be there. Your note or email should include the reason why you can’t attend.

It’s good to give the school two or three other meeting dates and times that work for you. Make sure to state that they do NOT have permission to proceed without you.

Do this as soon as possible, and keep a copy of the note.

If you absolutely can’t make it to the IEP meeting in person, the district must allow you to join by phone. You can also join the meeting by video chat. This is a good option if you can’t physically leave your job during the day, but can take a break.

Meetings typically take at least an hour. If you have to leave before the meeting ends, you can request to finish the call at another time.

If you can’t attend in person or by phone, you still have options. The law gives you the right to send someone else in your place. You’ll need to write to the school so they know you’ve given permission for this person to represent you at the meeting.

The representative should be someone who knows your child — and your child’s learning needs — very well. This person should also understand what you want addressed at the IEP meeting.

You can give a written list of requests for your representative to deliver at the meeting. That information will be included in the written minutes. After the meeting, ask the district to send you a copy of the IEP draft so you can review it before signing it . If there’s anything in the draft that you disagree with, you don’t have to sign it.

You can decline an IEP draft . But let the school know what your specific concerns are by following up with a phone call or email. You can also schedule what’s called a “reconvene” meeting to discuss the draft with the team.

The only way an IEP meeting can happen without you is if the school can prove you ignored its attempts to contact you. If the school made a serious effort to reach out and you didn’t respond, then the meeting can proceed without you. (If you disagree with what happened, learn how to handle disputes with the school.)

The law is set up to allow you to be part of the process. Even if you can’t find a way to attend the IEP meeting, you can still play your role on the team as your child’s biggest advocate.

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