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Hands Down: No Majority Vote Rule for IEP or MDR Decisions
School officials should strive to reach consensus in individualized education program (IEP) Team meetings and at manifestation determination reviews (MDRs). In some cases, however, consensus may not be possible. Nonetheless, the team should not “vote.” If the team cannot agree on an IEP decision or whether a student’s behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability, the school representative is responsible for making a final decision on the school’s behalf (consistent with applicable law and the information presented at the meeting), regardless of the “majority” opinion. There is no “majority vote” rule for IEP Team meetings or MDRs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school officials and parents to work together to develop an IEP for a student. IEP Team members include, but are not limited to, the student’s parents, a general education teacher (if the student is or may be participating in general education), the student’s special education teacher or provider, a person who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, and a school official with authority to make decisions and commit school resources (commonly called the “district representative” or “school representative”).
The IDEA grants parents the right to meaningful participation in the IEP Team meeting. Parent participation may include: reviewing documents; discussing placement options; answering parent questions; considering parent suggestions; and, to the extent appropriate, incorporating those suggestions into the IEP. While parents are equal participants in the IEP process, they do not have “veto power” over a proposed IEP. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Program discourages voting on IEP decisions, noting that it is inappropriate to use a “majority vote” approach to reach IEP Team decisions. Letter to Richards (OSEP, 2010).
If IEP Team members cannot reach consensus about a particular part of the IEP, the school representative (a school official with the authority to make decisions and commit resources) makes the final decision. Because the school is the entity charged with providing the student a free appropriate public education, the school representative must make a decision consistent with that obligation. After the school representative makes a decision, the school must provide parents with prior written notice of the school’s proposals and refusals. If the parent does not agree with the school representative’s decision, the parent may challenge the decision using the due process procedures provided under the IDEA and state law.
School officials should also refrain from using a “majority vote” approach to MDRs. At an MDR, the team must determine whether the student’s misconduct is a manifestation of the student’s disability. Under state and federal law, misconduct is a manifestation of a student’s disability only if it was: (1) caused by or directly and substantially related to the student’s disability; or (2) the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the student’s IEP. An attenuated relationship between the student’s disability and the misconduct is not a manifestation; not all misconduct is a manifestation of a student’s disability. The MDR Team must consider all relevant information, including any information from parents, document the information it considered, and carefully analyze the relationship, if any, between the student’s disability and the misconduct. If the MDR Team cannot reach consensus about whether the behavior was a manifestation of the student’s disability, then, as in the IEP Team meeting, the school representative should make a final decision consistent with applicable law and the information considered, regardless of the majority opinion.
School officials should remember that the school bears the ultimate responsibility for providing the student with a FAPE and ensuring compliance with the IDEA during an MDR. “Majority vote” decisions in these meetings are not appropriate.