Parents of children with disabilities invest heavily in their children, both in terms of time and resources. A recent opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) supports this idea, and offers a glimpse into where the law is headed. Some relief may be coming to these working parents— those who know all too well the conflicting time demands between work and tending to their children’s special education needs.
An opinion letter from the DOL was released on August 8, 2019, in response to an inquiry from two parents about whether attending IEP meetings for their children was “qualified leave” under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”). These particular working parents had two (2) children with serious health conditions. The school held IEP meetings four (4) times a year to assess the child’s progress and identify any further needs. Beyond teachers and school administrators, these meetings also included a panel of care providers — a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a school psychologist, and a physical therapist — to review test results and recommend additional treatment.
While receiving FMLA leave to occasionally drive their children to doctor appointments, one (1) parent was denied leave for their child’s IEP meetings. This prompted the parents to write to the DOL.
The DOL’s response was clear: These Parents’ IEP meetings were covered leave under the FMLA
The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division confirmed that the FMLA covered this parent’s leave. They reasoned that because the child’s school provided services like occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychological services, the ability of the parent to get updates and participate in these IEP meetings was essential to caring for the child’s needs. The DOL further explained that a child’s doctor did not need to be present at an IEP meeting in order for the parent to qualify for this intermittent FMLA leave.
Labor Administrator Cheryl Stanton wrote in the Opinion that eligible IEP meetings may include those which “help participants make medical decisions concerning your children’s medically prescribed speech, physical, and occupational therapy; to discuss your children’s well-being and progress with the providers of such services, and to ensure that your children’s school environment is suitable to their medical, social and academic needs.”
Providing care for a child includes making plans for their care
In the Opinion, the DOL noted that “to care” for a family member with a serious health condition encompassed making “arrangements for changes in care.”
While the Opinion is unique only to the facts of the particular parent’s circumstances, it is clear that the determination is beneficial to parents of children with disabilities. It is being interpreted by special needs advocates and educators around the country as an invitation to apply for FMLA leave in order to attend important IEP meetings. Stay tuned as courts begin to tackle such instances more often, as both disability determinations and services available become more prevalent in public schools.
For more information, please contact Tyler J. Dunphy, Esquire at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-540-2655.
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