Parents sometimes ask whether it would be helpful if they brought an attorney to their IEP meeting. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) addressed this question last year in an advisory letter to the Illinois State Board of Education, which had sought guidance on the respective rights of school districts and families.
The DOE noted that parents have the right to bring anyone who has knowledge or special expertise regarding their child to the IEP meeting and that it is the judgment of the parents whether any particular individual falls within that definition. The DOE further noted that while the school district must give parents advance notice as to who will be attending the IEP meeting, parents do not have to advise the district in advance if they are bringing someone with them, including an attorney.
If a parent does bring an attorney to the IEP meeting, the district may seek to adjourn the meeting, but only if the parent agrees and the delay would not delay or deny the child from receiving an appropriate education.
The DOE notes, that "... in the spirit of cooperation and working together as partners in the child’s education, a parent should provide advance notice to the [district] if he or she intends to bring an attorney to the IEP meeting. However, there is nothing in the IDEA or its implementing regulations that would permit the [district] to conduct the IEP meeting on the condition that the parent’s attorney not participate, and to do so would interfere with the parent’s rights..."
They go on to state: "Finally, we would like to note that, even if an attorney possessed knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, an attorney’s presence could have the potential for creating an adversarial atmosphere that would not necessarily be in the best interest of the child. Therefore, [it is our] longstanding position is that the attendance of attorneys at IEP meetings should be strongly discouraged."
While there may be substantive reasons not to bring an attorney to the IEP meeting, we always suggest that parents try not to attend meetings on their own and that they should bring someone with them for support and to take notes. That can be the child's other parent, a friend, or an advocate. For other tips, take a look at our posts on this topic.