On April 28, 2017, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the XXXXX School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2016-17 school year, properly followed special education disciplinary procedures and improperly shortened the school day of a student with a disability.
The student who is subject to this complaint is an adult and was a senior in high school anticipated to graduate with a regular diploma at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. In late February 2017, the student engaged in behavior in violation of the student code of conduct. The student was suspended from school for 1.5 school days. On the day the student returned to school, the student had a conversation with school staff that led to concerns about the student’s well-being. Based on further information, school staff ultimately determined the student’s behavior was potentially threatening. The school contacted police, who conducted a search of the student’s home and found no concerns. The school district requested the student remain at home until the individualized education program (IEP) team could meet to discuss next steps. The student remained at home for three school days. The student’s IEP team, including the adult student and the student’s parent, met on March 7, 2017. After considering several options, the team determined, based on the student’s heightened anxiety, a reduced day program at the high school was appropriate. Since the student had already met most graduation requirements, the team determined it would not be appropriate to transition the student back to a full-day schedule at the high school. The reasons for the shortened school day, and the unique circumstances regarding the team’s decision not to transition the student back to a full school day, were documented in the student’s IEP.
On April 11, 2017, the student again communicated information to school staff that led them to be concerned about the student’s well-being. Staff were concerned the student’s behavior was intended to be threatening, although the student and the student’s parent later explained the student’s inability to effectively communicate was caused by stress and anxiety due to the student’s disability. The student left school at the assigned dismissal time without incident, but was suspended from school for the following day. The student’s IEP team met again on April 18, and determined the student would receive specially designed instruction outside of the school building for the remainder of the school year, including specially designed instruction in social skills provided by an autism consultant. The student did not miss any days of instruction between the incident and the IEP team meeting. In mid-May, the student enrolled in another school district and completed all graduation requirements. The student has graduated with a regular high school diploma.
Under special education disciplinary requirements, when a student with a disability is removed for more than 10 cumulative school days during the course of a school year, the district must provide services to the extent necessary to enable the student to continue to participate in the general education curriculum, although in another setting, and to progress toward meeting the goals set out in the student’s IEP. If the district decides to change the student’s placement because of a violation of a code of student conduct, the school district must conduct a manifestation determination within 10 school days from the date of that decision. In this situation, the student was officially suspended from school for 3.5 days. The student also missed 3 days of attendance in early March after being asked not to return until the IEP team could meet. Although not officially considered days of suspension, these are days of disciplinary removals and the district counted them as such. The student was removed for a total of 6.5 days, and therefore, the district was not required to provide services during these removals. The changes in placement were not for disciplinary reasons, but rather they were made by the IEP team based on individualized student needs. As such, a manifestation determination was not required. The district properly followed the special education disciplinary requirements.
Students with disabilities must attend school for the same number of hours and minutes as non-disabled students, unless a student’s IEP team determines otherwise based on a student’s unique, disability-related needs. When a student’s school day is shortened, the student’s IEP must include an explanation of why the student’s disability-related needs require a shortened day. In this situation, the student’s IEP team determined the student’s increasing anxiety created the need for a shorter school day. The team documented this determination in the student’s IEP. Since the student was on track to graduate with a regular diploma within weeks of the decision to shorten the school day, the team determined it was not appropriate to return the student to a full school day. Given these unique circumstances, the district did not inappropriately shorten the school day of a student with a disability.
This concludes our review of this complaint.
//signed 6/27/17 by CST
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support