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Legal Memorandum: Lack of Parental Cooperation Defense

Issue: In New Jersey, is lack of parental cooperation a defense to a school district’s failure to develop a student’s individualized educational program?

Area of Law: Education Law
Keywords: School district's defense; Lack of parental cooperation; Individualized educational program (IEP)
Jurisdiction: Federal, New Jersey
Cited Cases: 81 F.3d 389
Cited Statutes: 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(B)(i); N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.3(b), 6A:14-2.7(b)
Date: 03/01/2005

The level of cooperation of a student’s parents is immaterial to the formation and implementation of an individualized educational program (IEP).  While parents must receive a full opportunity to participate in the IEP process, 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(B)(i), parental involvement and cooperation is not necessary to develop and implement an IEP. 

[A] child’s entitlement to special education should not depend upon the vigilance of the parents (who may not be sufficiently sophisticated to comprehend the problem) nor be abridged because the district’s behavior did not rise to the level of slothfulness or bad faith.  Rather, it is the responsibility of the child’s teachers, therapists, and administrators–and of the multi-disciplinary team that annually evaluates the student’s progress–to ascertain the child’s educational needs, respond to deficiencies, and place him or her accordingly.

M.C. v. Central Reg. Sch. Dist., 81 F.3d 389, 397 (3d Cir. 1996); see also Hicks v. Purchase Line Sch. Dist., 251 F. Supp. 2d 1250,  (W.D. Pa. 2003) (school districts, not parents, have the duty to identify, evaluate and educate students eligible for special education.).

A school district faced with disinterested, uncooperative, or difficult parents may not ignore its statutory duties, but must nonetheless develop an IEP for the child.  “When the parent declines participation in an IEP meeting or is in disagreement with the recommendations, the remaining participants shall develop a written IEP in accordance with this section.”  N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.7(k) (emphasis added). 

Once an IEP is developed […]