The MLO Minute, By Michael Connolly, Esq., Supervising Partner of the Special Education Department
Most parents in today’s world are forced to deal with balancing the commitments of work and family, but for parents of children with disabilities that struggle can be intensified by additional obligations related to their child’s educational program. For example, for students with disabilities who are eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), a school district is required to hold an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) meeting with the parents at least annual, but more frequently if necessary. For many students with disabilities, particularly those with more complex needs or those struggling to make progress, meetings can be far more frequent than once a year and last several hours at time. These meetings can become of significant strain for parents who need to take vacation or personal time off from work to attend these meetings. Over the years there have countless times that clients have expressed concern that they can’t take any more time off from work, or that they may lose their job if they have to go to one more meeting at school. Requests by parents to hold IEP meeting before or after work hours are typical not received well by school districts.
While the need for ongoing, and at times frequent, IEP meetings will always be present for parents, a recent opinion from the U.S. Department of Labor does provide some assistance under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Specifically, an opinion letter from August 2019 concluded that attending an IEP meeting was “care for a family member . . . with a serious health condition,” and was a qualifying reason for taking intermittent FMLA leave. While the opinion letter certainly does not reduce the number of IEP meetings that may be necessary in a given school year, hopefully it will provide some help for parents who are experiencing issues with their employer regarding missed work.