Legal Memorandum: Parent Involvement in Placement Decisions

Issue: The degree of weight to be afforded by an IEP Team to a parent’s choice of placement in New Jersey, assuming all things are equal at the time the placement decision is made.

Area of Law: Education Law
Keywords: Parental concerns; The IEP Team; Placement decision
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 81 F.3d 389
Cited Statutes: 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)
Date: 07/01/2006

The IDEA provides that an IEP (Individualized Education Program) Team shall develop an IEP considering “the strengths of the child and the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child.”  20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3).  The IDEA, however, gives no indication of the degree of weight that should be afforded to parental concerns.

The IEP Team must establish placement in the least restrictive environment “to permit the child ‘to benefit’ from the instruction.”  Board of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982).  The child’s placement need not, however, maximize the child’s education.  Accordingly, although the parent’s participation in the placement decision is crucial, the IEP Team need not follow a parent’s suggestion if it is not the least restrictive environment or is otherwise inappropriate.  Rather, the IEP Team must provide FAPE (Families and Advocates Partnership for Education) in the least restrictive environment whether the parents agree or not.  If the parents disagree, they may file due process or unilaterally place the child in private school. 

Arguing the issue from a parent’s perspective, deference to parents may not be used to excuse a District’s choice of an inappropriate placement.  “[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) . . . .  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 […]

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