Communication Between Parents and School Officials: Can there be too much?

Special educators cannot deny the necessity of communication with parents and the benefits it brings to providing a special needs child a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  To be certain, special educators will also agree excessive communication can be counter-productive. Excessive emails or communication with an inappropriate tone can lead to a decrease in morale and productivity of members of the team.  In a school setting, communications received cannot always be acted on immediately. This delay may create dissatisfaction in unmet expectations by parents.  Defined communication protocols are a necessary tool to avoid these communication problems. The question remains whether communication protocols restricting parent communication would violate the IDEA’s requirement for parental participation in the development of educational programming. 

A communication protocol developed in response to excessive and harassing communication does not violate the IDEA. Reasonable restrictions in response to excessive communication can be a proper response if: the team documents discussions regarding communication related to IEP issues; the district notifies parents of its concerns; and, if necessary, implements a protocol and provides notice to parents of the district’s expectations regarding communication.

A District Court in Oregon upheld a communication protocol developed by a school district to limit excessive and harassing emails from a parent.  The parent in that case asserted the email protocol impeded the parents’ participation in the IEP process. The court disagreed finding the school district did not violate IDEA when it established a communication protocol to reduce the number of emails it received from a parent of a child identified with autism and ADHD.  The District Court held while parents may have a right to participate they do not have a right to unlimited communication with staff.

Districts can set reasonable restrictions on parent communications with staff provided the parent still has the opportunity to voice concerns and participate in the development of the IEP. The IDEA requires school districts to provide parents a meaningful opportunity to participate in IEP meetings. The Oregon school district limited the number of emails to one weekly email directed to a single point of contact, the case manager.  The case manager was tasked with addressing parents’ concerns regarding student progress.  Importantly, the parent was not otherwise restricted from attending IEP meetings or speaking to teachers over the phone.

The Education Group at MBM is well-prepared to offer assistance should your district have an issue with excessive communication. While all matters involving special education are individually fact-driven, our team is available to assist you in developing legally effective communication protocols.