Ennis Britton attorneys Pam Leist, Giselle Spencer, and Jeremy Neff were at the LRP School Attorneys Workshop and National Institute in Savannah, Georgia earlier this month. Pam presented on the topic “Can you Keep a Secret? Navigating Confidentiality Under IDEA, 504, and FERPA” during the National Institute. Jeremy also presented during the National Institute on the topic “Successfully Mapping the Exit from IDEA Services.” In addition, Jeremy spoke at the School Attorneys Workshop on the topic “An Ounce of Prevention: COVID Lessons Learned for Future Disruptions”.

Giselle captured five key takeaways from the conferences:

1. Fittingly, at the end of the school attorneys workshop on May fifth, she learned that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. However, it does mark a historically, significant battle with some interesting connections to the outcome of the American Civil War as well as the Mexican fight for independence from brief period of French colonial rule (thanks for yet another history lesson, Jeremy). What does that mean to special educators? It has something to do with stepping back and taking a broader view and accepting that we don’t always understand the significance of something we’re going through while we are in the midst of it.

2. More specific to special education, an excellent session on parents and the different individuals who can fill those rolls offered the reminder that surrogate parents are only appointed in specific circumstances outlined in the regulations. It is not appropriate to appoint surrogates just because of difficulties in working with a parent or inconsistent attendance at meetings by a parent. Ohio’s special education regulations align with the federal regulations which only allow the appointment of a surrogate when an individual otherwise meeting the definition of parent cannot be identified or located, when the child is a ward of the state, or when the child is an unaccompanied homeless youth.

3. Pam Leist shared in her presentation that under FERPA and parallel privacy protections in IDEA, union representation does not get a seat at the IEP meeting table. IEP teams discuss important sensitive information that is not germane to labor management issues, or the terms and conditions of employment. While sometimes those issues may arise tangential to special education decisions, it is important to keep them separate from the IEP meeting process.

4. A speaker from a different state shared that there are varying residential placement tests applied by courts, depending on where a school district that the student is a resident of is found. The Ohio test for school district financial responsibility for residential services asks whether the need for residential services is intrinsically intertwined with the educational services or needs of the child. Residential placements at public expense should only be used in rare circumstances with low incidence needs, regardless of which test a court applies.

5. And finally, Giselle observed for her fifth take away and in recognition of the island location of the Savannah convention center as well as the stormy weather on a couple of the nights, that one should never get on a metal ferry during a thunderstorm.

Ennis Britton’s team enjoyed presenting at LRP this year and also learning from colleagues across the country. Thanks to the clients who made the trip for saying hello! We look forward to participating again next year when the National Institute is held in Phoenix, where we do not anticipate needing to ride any ferries. Until then, the Ennis Britton Special Education Team is able to provide quality, tailored professional development here in Ohio throughout the year.