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IDEA Complaint Decision 13-046

On August 30, 2013, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Milwaukee Public Schools. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the summer of 2013, properly changed the student’s placement and properly provided a copy of the revised individualized education program (IEP) to the parent.

An IEP team must determine the special education placement, including the school building, for a child with a disability. The placement decision must be made based on the student’s IEP and made in conformity with the least restrictive environment provisions. Removal from the regular educational environment may occur only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. Furthermore, the district must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available for consideration by the IEP team.

Under very limited circumstances, a district may change a student's building without conducting an IEP team meeting. When a student changes schools because his or her residence changes to another attendance area within the local education agency (LEA), the student changes to a school the parent has selected under the MPS three-choice enrollment policy, or the student’s program or school building closes, an IEP team meeting is not required as long the student’s new school building is the building he or she would otherwise attend if not disabled, and the student’s IEP can be implemented as written in the new school building.

The student’s special education school of placement closed at the end of the 2012-13 school year. On July 26, 2013, an IEP team meeting was held to determine the student’s placement for fall 2013. The student’s parent attended the meeting, along with a parent advocate and a parent assistant. The student’s IEP provided specialized instruction for behavior/social skills and academics six hours a day at a private separate school. The LEA representative at the July 26 IEP team meeting suggested two out-of-district special education contracted sites. The parent requested a more typical district high school, and asked for additional time to consider and visit alternative schools. In addition, the parent and parent advocate requested the district remove the district special services information management system (SSIMS) IEP software “M” code from the student’s record. MPS acknowledges that the “M” code may restrict placement options for a student with a disability. District staff at the IEP team meeting agreed to remove the “M” code and to reconvene the meeting to provide the parent additional time as requested. It was anticipated that the IEP would be revised, and placement determined when the IEP team reconvened. When the parent called and requested a copy of the July 26 IEP, the parent was informed the student’s October 25, 2012 IEP was not changed, because the team had not reached consensus on placement. Since the IEP was not changed, the district was not required to provide a copy of the IEP to the parent following the meeting.

On July 30, 2013, a special services supervisor, who attended the July 26 IEP team meeting, submitted a request to remove the “M” code from the SSIMS IEP system for the student. On August 26, the student, the student’s parent, and a parent advocate met with a district student assignment coordinator at the district central office. On August 26, the “M” code was removed and the student was assigned to an alternative school by the assignment coordinator. In August, the student and his parent met with staff for an orientation meeting at the newly assigned school. On September 3, the student attended his newly assigned school, and participated in all regular education classes with special education support in the regular education environment.

The student’s placement was not properly changed. MPS should have reconvened the IEP team meeting to review and revise the student’s IEP and determine placement. The limited exception to the IEP team meeting requirement did not apply, because the student’s new school is not the school the student would otherwise attend if not disabled and the student’s IEP could not be implemented as written in the new school building.

Student specific corrective action is not required, because the district conducted an IEP team meeting on September 12, 2013, to review and revise the student’s IEP and determine continuing placement. The district must, within 30 days from the date of this decision, submit a corrective action plan to ensure the district properly determines placements for students with a disability. Department staff will review with MPS staff the use of the “M” code to ensure that IEP teams are able to consider the full range of placement options.

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 10/29/2013
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support