The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, along with several other advocacy groups, has submitted an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in the case of Winkelman v. Parma City School District. The lawsuit was brought by the parents of an Autistic child who was not given the opportunity to continue receiving occupational therapy services in an Ohio school after the district had agreed that those services were necessary. The school district prepared an IEP stating only that a further assessment of the need for the services would be completed.
The Supreme Court is seeking to resolve a conflict among the Circuit Courts of Appeals, which have taken conflicting approaches to the question of whether a court's analysis of the content of an IEP should consider only the written IEP or whether the court has discretion to consider other evidence as well.
Parents play a major role in developing an IEP, which is analogous to a contract with the school district specifying the educational services to be provided to the child. Related services such as occupational therapy also must be specified in the IEP pursuant to federal law as set forth in 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(4). School districts are prohibited from making unilateral decisions about a child's IEP.
Consistent with the general rule that in contract law, evidence outside the written terms of the contract ordinarily is not admissible in court, three Courts of Appeals have ruled that only the written IEP should be considered in determining whether it is adequate. However, three other Courts of Appeals, including the court from which the Winkelman case was appealed, reached the opposite conclusion in deciding that an IEP lacking the required specific content could nevertheless be found valid based on consideration of other evidence.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is asking the Supreme Court to rule that when courts analyze the content of an IEP to determine its adequacy, only the written IEP should be considered. A school district should not be allowed to omit required content from a child's IEP and then to assert later that it intended to supplement the IEP. Allowing districts to postpone decisions on the content of an IEP can lead to considerable delay in providing occupational therapy and other necessary services. The educational well-being of Autistic children and other students with disabilities is best served when they receive therapy without interruption or delay.