Must an IEP specify an educational methodology?
Educational evaluations often recommend specific methods to address students’ special education needs. An evaluation that diagnoses a child with dyslexia, for instance, may recommend reading instruction using the Orton-Gillingham method or Wilson method. In the case of a child with autism, an evaluation may recommend applied behavior therapy (ABA). School districts often refuse to include these recommendations in IEPs and claim that such information is not required. So is that true?
As is often the case in the law, the answer is “maybe.” The IDEA requires that an IEP contain “a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child.” 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(IV). Yet courts have typically found that the failure of an IEP to specify a teaching methodology does not violate the law. Rather, courts have typically viewed methodology as beyond their expertise and left specific methodology to teachers.
Recent case law, however, has chipped away at this premise. Two decisions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that school districts were required to specify ABA therapy in students’ IEPs where the clear consensus of evaluative material reviewed by the respective CSEs recommended such therapy. See R.E. v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ., 694 F.3d 167, 174-75 (2d Cir. 2012); A.M. v. New York City Dept. of Educ., 845 F.3d 523 (2d Cir. 2017). In Avaras v. Clarkstown Central School District, 15 Civ. 2042 (NSR) (S.D.N.Y. 2017), all parties agreed that the Wilson reading method was appropriate for the child. Although the court did not say that the IEP in Avaras needed to specify the Wilson method, the court concluded that the IEP was deficient because the class size recommended in the IEP, a 15:1 classroom, was too large to effectively implement the Wilson reading program.
Thus, if the clear consensus of materials before the CSE recommends a specific teaching methodology, the IEP at the very least must recommend a program that allows for that methodology to be provided and may need to specify the methodology, particularly for a student with autism where ABA therapy is recommended.
Regardless of where the law is on this issue, parents should request that their student's IEP require the specific methodologies recommended in the student's evaluations be included in the IEP. If the CSE refuses to include that methodology, ask that your request be noted in the IEP and consult an attorney concerning your options.