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IDEA Complaint Decision 10-015

On March 3, 2010, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against Waterford Union High School. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, from March 2009 through March 2010, properly identified a child in need of special education services.

The complainant believed the district should have suspected the student was a student with a disability and initiated a special education evaluation before the parent referred the student on December 11, 2009. The complainant also stated the district did not inform the parent of her right to make a referral for a special education evaluation.

A school district must identify, locate, and evaluate all resident students with disabilities who are in need of special education and related services. In order to carry out this duty, a district must conduct "child find" activities. These activities include procedures directed at licensed educators employed by the district, parents, and non-district professionals who are required under state law to refer a student who they reasonably believe is a student with a disability for a special education evaluation. Each district must establish written procedures for accepting and processing referrals for special education evaluations from these individuals. In addition, a district must annually inform parents and persons required to make referrals about the district’s special education referral procedures.

Documentation received from the district noted the parent reported the student had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) during the 2002-2003 school year and had taken medication. There were no prior or subsequent special education referrals or educational interventions to address the ADHD diagnosis. During the 2008-2009 school year, there were several parent meetings regarding concerns about possible substance abuse and the student’s behavior at home, and there was documentation of an incident related to potential drug use during the spring of 2009. The student met periodically with guidance staff to discuss personal and family issues. The student received one suspension and failed several classes during the second semester of the 2008-2009 school year but was promoted because of proficient and advanced Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) scores. At the time, district staff did not believe the student’s academic or behavior concerns were the result of a disability and the student’s parents did not request a special education evaluation. The student was put on the guidance staff monitoring list for the 2009-2010 school year.

No concerns were noted during the first guidance staff meeting in September 2009. Concerns about the student’s behavior and academic achievement were first noted in October of 2009, when the student began receiving office referrals for non-compliant behavior, one of which resulted in a suspension. A parent conference was held following the suspension. Attendance problems and refusal to complete homework and make-up work following absences were also documented. The student was put on the guidance team list for weekly monitoring and was placed in a class intended to provide the student with support for completing unfinished work.

Between October 14 and December 11, 2009, the student received 11 discipline reports from staff that resulted in three out-of-school suspensions and one in-school suspension, for a total of six days. The student was also failing most of his first semester classes. A meeting was held between the parent and district administration following the student’s December 11 suspension, at which time the parent made a written request for a special education evaluation. Prior to that date, the parent had had a number of conversations with district staff about the student’s behavior and academic failure. However, the parent had not requested a special education evaluation, nor shared information that led staff to believe the student had a disability that might require special education. The parent had been encouraged to discuss her concerns with pupil services staff, which was the district’s procedure when a parent expressed a concern that went beyond what an individual teacher could provide.

The district’s current written policies and procedures do not address all state and federal requirements, and the district acknowledges it did not properly publish the required child find notice within the past year. The district has corrected this omission by publishing the notice in the local paper on April 16, 2010, and has taken steps to insure such notices are published annually hereafter. The department has verified these corrective actions have been completed. The district shared documentation that staff training regarding state and federal requirements related to the district’s child find obligations and special education referral procedures occurred in March and September, 2009. Staff interviewed during the complaint investigation were aware of their child find obligations. They did not suspect the student’s behavior or academic problems were related to the previous diagnosis of ADHD or a disability, and, therefore, did not initiate a special education referral. District staff did not explain the process for making a special education referral to the parents because they did not believe the parent had expressed concern that the student had a disability and needed special education. During the year, the parent had received a copy of parental rights and procedural safeguards pertaining to another child and had received district contact information regarding special education.

Following receipt of the parent’s special education referral, the district properly initiated and completed a special education evaluation of the student. The student was determined eligible for special education services on March 2, 2010, by an individualized education program (IEP) team. With respect to this student, the district followed required procedures and properly identified the student as a student in need of special education.

The district has agreed to update its local child find and special education referral policies and procedures so they are consistent with federal and state requirements. Upon revision, the district will provide a copy of the revised policies and procedures to the department for approval and will document the approved policies and procedures have been adopted by the district’s school board. Once adopted, the district will share the written policies and procedures with district staff. The district will provide the department documentation of the completion of these corrective actions by September 30, 2010.

All noncompliance identified above must be corrected as soon as possible, but in no case more than one year from the date of this decision. This concludes our review of this complaint.

//signed CST/SJP 4/27/10
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy