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IDEA Complaint Decision 06-023

On May 5, 2006, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Madison Metropolitan School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2005-2006 school year, properly determined special education services to be provided to a student with a disability and properly determined the student’s placement.

The individualized education program (IEP) developed for the 2005-2006 school year includes extensive, detailed descriptions of the student’s present levels of educational performance indicating how the student learns and the student’s abilities and learning needs. The IEP provides that the student will have a replacement curriculum for all subjects but will spend much of the day in regular education classes being assisted at all times by special education staff. The IEP requires substantial special education and supplementary aids and services, as well as related services and program modifications and supports for school personnel. The IEP also includes positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports, and a detailed behavior intervention plan (BIP).

The student’s behaviors which interfere with learning include physical harm to staff, other students, and occasionally school visitors. By spring 2005 when the IEP for the 2005-2006 school year was developed, the intensity and number of physical aggression incidents had been substantially reduced. However, soon after the start of the 2005-2006 school year, the physical aggression increased. An IEP team met in early October to review the student’s program. In late October, the student struck the special education teacher, injuring him seriously. Several days later, staff working with the student requested assistance from the district’s Positive Behavior Supports Team which includes district specialists in addressing significant student problem behaviors. An IEP team meeting also was held in early November. IEP teams met three more times before the end of December 2005. The student was placed in a different school within the district in January 2006, following a brief period when the student transitioned to the new school.

This complaint relates to whether the district properly considered placement options other than within schools operated by the district and properly developed programs to address the student’s behavior-related needs. Some staff who work in the building the student attended in the fall and early winter believed the student may have required a placement in a facility which specializes in addressing the needs of students with disabilities. They also questioned whether the program developed for the student in their school building properly addressed his aggressive behavior.

The district conducted five IEP team meetings during a two and one-half month period in the fall and early winter of 2005. The IEP in place at the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year was developed in light of the progress the student had shown late in the 2004-2005 school year. The teacher who worked with the student early in the 2005-2006 school year was the same teacher the student had the previous year when the student made significant behavior gains. Within one month of the incident where the teacher was hurt, Positive Behavior Supports Team specialists participated in another IEP team meeting. These staff began assessing the student’s behavior needs prior to the meeting and assisted in developing programming approaches to address the behavior during the December IEP team meetings.

During the late November and two December 2005 IEP team meetings, district staff modified the student’s BIP and other IEP provisions related to behavior. The two December meetings included extended discussions of where the modified program should be implemented. The first meeting included consideration of three district schools, as well as two other options, including a private program for students with significant behavior needs. District staff had informed the parents prior to the early December meeting that the private placement was one option being considered. The parents received information about the program, as well. Although the parents were prepared to consider the private program, during IEP team discussions they offered several reasons why they preferred placement within a district school.

The district has developed guidelines to assist in selecting among several placement options. The IEP team which met in early December discussed the 14 elements on a pre-printed guidelines form and three which the team added for each placement option. Team decisions for each element were recorded. The IEP team which met later in December used the same process in considering one of the previous options plus one new one, both within district school buildings. The team selected the new placement option.

The program and placement decisions reached by these IEP teams were based on the student’s educational needs. The district promptly assigned new staff with specialized training and experience to develop appropriate ways to address the student’s behavior. These staff extensively charted and assessed the student’s behavior and developed recommendations which were presented during IEP team meetings. The IEP teams considered placing the student in a private program, but rejected that option for several reasons related to the student’s needs. Other factors considered in rejecting the private placement were additional travel time to and from the school, maintaining and expanding local community ties, and continued placement in a regular education environment. Additionally, the IEP team participants from the Positive Behavior Supports Team who became involved starting in November concluded that with appropriate modifications to program and environment, the student could be successful and receive appropriate educational services in a regular school building. While this complaint relates to whether decisions made in the fall were reached using required procedures, it is noteworthy that the student made substantial gains in the new placement, not only around behavior-related needs, but in advancing toward other annual goals, as well. The placement decision was student centered and not driven by fiscal or administrative considerations.

Finally, the complaint letter indicates that the district did not include staff who had worked closely with the student and who were familiar with the student’s needs during IEP team meetings conducted in the fall. While not all staff who had worked closely with the student participated in all meetings, several staff did participate in all meetings held between October and the end of December. Further, the district added several additional Positive Behavior Support Team staff to IEP team meetings. Each IEP team included required participants. The district met requirements related to including needed staff on IEP teams.

This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.

//signed CST/DHT 6/29/06
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy