Unseemly IEP Team Member: “The Liar”
Published on June 20, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano
Let me start by saying that, while I have unfortunately seen my share of dishonesty on the part of many IEP Team Members over the many years I have been practicing special education law on behalf of children, usually it comes in the form of misleading comments, convenient omissions, or minor misrepresentations when the individual feels cornered by the parent or the special education director. This isn’t the type of dishonesty I am talking about when I refer to The Liar.
The Liar is blatantly dishonest, willing to not only switch positions 180° from what he told the parents privately to what he says in the IEP Meeting, but to deny ever having taken the opposite position in the first place.
It is extremely difficult for me to sit still when I witness The Liar slither around an issue of dispute at an IEP Team Meeting, but my discomfort does not even compare to the reaction my clients have. Connecticut being a small State, I can at least sometimes warn my clients in advance if I know I’m walking into a meeting with a notorious Liar. “Don’t lose your cool,” I’ll tell them, “just write me a note giving me the truth, or tell me we need to step out into the hallway to talk.” Even with these warnings, I sometimes have to physically prevent some of my clients from jumping out of their seats and yelling “YOU ARE SUCH A LIAR!!!”
When I talk to new clients, or to people outside of the special education legal community, and tell them that there are serious Liars working in our public schools, they sometimes don’t believe me.
Sometimes I’ll be on the phone with a prospective client, who will say “even the special education teacher told me that she completely agreed that he needs 1:1 speech therapy.” And after getting the details of the exchange (estimated date, name of the teacher, context of discussion, where it took place) I will usually say “well, that’s good to know, and I hope she is willing to admit that publicly or under oath.” When the response is “well, you don’t think she’d lie about it do you, that’s exactly what she told me!” a part of me winces. I tell them that I am jaded and cynical, and I really hope I’m wrong, but that I see it all the time.
When “push comes to shove,” when a statement is made to a parent that could genuinely harm the school district’s case, in my experience, the person who made denies it 90% of the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong; parents can lie too, and I’ve had a few experiences over the years where I’ve discovered that it was my own client who was the source of dishonesty. When that has happened, I’ve often terminated my representation of them. In addition, there are misunderstandings in life. Sometimes a caring teacher will make a comment to a parent like “I understand why you think he needs to be in a private placement,” and in fact, she does. That does not necessarily mean that the teacher believes the school district’s program is inappropriate.
Yet, when a school district is exposed to potential litigation, all bets are off, and flat-out lying does occur.
I have been doing this long enough to know the kinds of questions to ask, and to get a feel for people; not always, but most of the time, I can tell if someone is lying to me. In addition, I sometimes represent a number of children within the same district, even within the same program in the same district. So when I am at one IEP Meeting and the staff is telling the parents that none of the other students in the class use augmentative communication devices, and I happen to have a client in that very classroom who uses an augmentative communication device, I KNOW they are lying.
Thankfully, the full-fledged Liars are in the minority in our public schools, but they do real harm.
It really is an outrage, and it is part of why I tell parents to document all important discussions they have with the school district staff. I can’t tell you how many parents I have witnessed undergo shock and disappointment when they hear the school staff lie to their faces at an IEP Team Meeting. Worse still is the realization that someone who is working with their child is willing to outright deny their conversations with them.
The truth is, if you are unwilling to be honest about the needs of children with disabilities, you have no business working with them.