Maybe you’ve heard the proverb “A stitch in time saves nine,” but have you ever wondered what it means? According to Wiktionary, this old proverb comes from the idea of mending a small tear in clothes before it becomes a larger one. In other words, putting in a little effort when an issue first arises can prevent it from becoming a larger one later. We couldn’t help but think of this proverb recently when our own Dana Fattore Crumley and others on the Attorney Panel at the IAASE Winter Conference were asked whether a non-administrator can act as an LEA representative during an IEP meeting. Many ideas were shared, and one that deserves further discussion is the impact if that LEA rep does not have sufficient authority in situations where more than typical resources are at stake. What are the cautionary concerns you should consider in this situation? Read on for the answers.
First, some background. Terms like “the LEA” and the “LEA Rep” get thrown around at IEP meetings, but what do they mean? An “LEA” is a local educational agency—usually the school district or cooperative. Regulations implementing the IDEA require that each IEP team include a representative of the public agency who:
- Is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities;
- Is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and
- Is knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency.
This is the “LEA Rep.” Illinois administrative rules also require that the LEA Rep “have the authority to make commitments for the provision of resources and be able to ensure that the services set out in the IEP will be implemented.”
So, can a non-administrator be an LEA Rep?
Yes, but with a few words of caution. The rep must meet the requirements and have the authority set out in both the Federal and Illinois law, including, importantly, the ability to commit resources. Although we know that special education directors and supervisors have a multitude of pressures on their time and may not always be able to make every meeting, if an IEP team recommends residential placement that will cost $100,000 a year, there must be someone at the table who can authorize it.
Our concern? That in some circumstances, if the LEA rep does not have sufficient authority, the rep will say “we will get back to you” when a proposal for more-than-typical resources is on the table. Or, the LEA rep may agree to costly services—like that $100,000-a-year placement above—and then after the meeting with the district-level administrator, want to pull back. Unfortunately, because of those legal provisions above, the LEA rep’s decision is the District’s decision.
So, what are the key takeaways here? An LEA rep who is vested with authority should be at every meeting. It doesn’t have to be an administrator, but the person may be asked to make big decisions that can bind the district, so trusting the rep’s judgment is key. In cases where more-than-typical resources may be on the table, we suggest that an administrator be present—the administrator may just be that stitch in time who can help prevent a bigger hole from developing later.