Decision-Making in Special Education: A Structuration Analysis of Individualized Education Program Meetings for Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities
Richman, Taylor David
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Parental participation in Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meetings has been a contested topic since the enactment of federal law granting parents of students with disabilities the right to help develop their child's IEP. The literature suggests that parents are commonly passive members of IEP teams and routinely excluded from IEP decision-making. The sparse literature on parents of color in IEP meetings contends that many parents of color also experience challenges to full engagement in the process related to their racial, ethnic, and cultural identity. In this qualitative case study, I use direct observation and semi-structured interviews to investigate how one highly skilled special educator conducted IEP meetings for middle school students identified as having emotional/behavioral disabilities. I also examine the IEP meeting experiences of seven parents of his students, including two parents of color. In total, twenty people participated in this study. I observed four IEP meetings over one school year and conducted five interviews with members of these IEP teams. The results of this study indicate that special educators retain disproportionate decision-making power and influence in IEP meetings and that parents are largely excluded from making meaningful contributions during this process. However, unlike previous research, I found that parents were highly participatory in other aspects of IEP meetings. I analyze these findings across four emergent themes: parental participation; the distribution and enactment of power and authority; building parent-teacher relationships; and defining, developing, and enacting the purpose of IEP meetings. I employ structuration theory (Giddens, 1984; Sewell, 1992) to examine how participants' behavior reinforced or challenged special education and IEP meeting structures, and I critique the IEP meetings using legal analysis. I discuss implications of my findings for research and practice. I argue that greater theoretical diversity is needed in the research literature to more deeply understand the mechanisms that push parents to the periphery of IEP decision-making. I suggest that understanding these mechanisms can help special educators and school administrators to more fully embrace and effectively capitalize on the spirit of collaboration and parent involvement intended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- Education - Seattle