In March, I attended the national conference for special education attorneys and advocates and was overwhelmed with the amount of information presented there. For an attorney practicing special education law, it was like Christmas morning as I attended each workshop, eager to unwrap new practice tips and little known laws. And for the more well-known laws, it was great to take a deeper dive into them and learn creative ways to make them work for the client.
One of the workshops I attended dealt with classroom observations. This can be such a helpful tool for parents who are unsure if their child’s placement is appropriate. While there is no federal right to observe (sorry my New Hampshire friends, but keep reading, as you are not totally out of luck!), in Massachusetts, schools must allow parents or their designees to observe the child in his her current or proposed program. This right extends to both academic and non-academic components. The visit should be of sufficient duration and extent to allow the parents to evaluate whether the child can make effective progress.
Although there is no federal right to an observation, the Supreme Court ruled that collaboration is an important part of the federal law on disabilities. Thus, in order for parents to have meaningful participation (as required by law), they need to be able to observe. The school cannot deny an observation request on privacy concerns as the law relating to protection of educational records does not apply to observations. Parents can–and should–request an observation as part of an independent evaluation.
It is a good idea to have an educational consultant or other expert conduct the observation. He or she will know exactly what to look for and what to ask (always interview the staff!). And should you end up in a legal dispute at some point, the expert’s observation will hold more weight than a parent’s.
But for now, it’s too early to think about school–enjoy your summer!