Methodology is a hot topic in cases, IEP meetings and discussions all across the country. With a plethora of programs available, emphasis on research, and an influx of stimulus package money intended to be used for programs and curriculum, the timing is ripe for more and more methodology disputes to emerge. We see these issues come up everyday, in situations ranging from parents who initially come to us because they want a specific methodology to due process cases involving school districts pretermining methodology. Mandy and I have given two presentations specifically on this topic recently.
Parents think of methodology in terms of programs and curriculum choices. Examples of particular "methodologies" are Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) or Discrete Trial Training (DTT) for students with autism, Lindamood Bell, Orton-Gillingham or the Wilson method for students with reading deficits. The list could go on and on. With a focus on research based interventions in not only IDEIA but also in No Child Left Behind, there are new programs or "methodologies" emerging all the time.
Here are some thoughts and ideas on these issues:
Methodology disputes arise when the disagreement is in regards to two or more options that could each appropriately meet the child's unique needs. As advocates and attorneys, we can go a long way towards dealing with these disputes simply by learning to anticipate and recognize when a school district is going to claim that the issue is solely related to methodology. School districts are given discretion in these cases, and are generally permitted to choose what methodology to employ, so long as the method chosen provides the student a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Anticipating these disputes and reframing the issue as being focused on FAPE, rather than a choice among programs, from the very beginning, is an excellent advocacy strategy.
Asking questions about the methodology choice can be very useful. The IEP team should be able to discuss what research exists to support the use of a particular program, who is trained to implement the program, and why a program was chosen over other methods. There may be perfectly valid justifications for a school district's choice, but parents need to understand that information in order to meaningfully participate in the IEP process.
Even though school districts have discretion in choices of methodology, that does not mean that procedural requirements under the law don't apply! School districts are not permitted to predetermine methodology for a particular student before an IEP discussion about the student's unique needs. They are also not permitted to have a blanket policy to refuse specific methodologies or programs.
Finally, remember that everyone needs to keep an open mind in these cases. Often both parents and school districts have very strong opinions about what will or won't work for a particular child. School districts could prevent a lot of these cases from being litigated if they would simply listen with an open mind to what parents and their experts are saying about the program and the child's unique needs. Parents should also keep an open mind about possible programs and about how those programs may possibly benefit their child. Not only might this result in preventing the dispute from ever arising, but it will also go a long way to helping the parents present their case down the line if in fact it results in litigation.