On February 16, 2015, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the XXXXX School District (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, after February 16, 2014, properly provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to a student with a disability, properly responded to the parent’s request for an individualized education program (IEP) team meeting, and properly determined placement for the student.
The student enrolled in the district as an incoming freshman in 2013. The student received special education and related services upon enrollment and thereafter. In the spring semester of the 2013-14 school year, the student participated in two academic classes in the general education setting. The student struggled in both of these classes.
The IEP in effect for the student during the spring semester required twenty minutes of consultation on a monthly basis between the general education and special education teachers. Additionally, the IEP specified various accommodations related to test taking, preferential seating, additional time to complete tasks, and receiving directions, but it did not provide for the modification of classroom materials. In addition to providing the other required accommodations, the general education teacher typically communicated with the special education teacher on a weekly basis, resulting in more than twenty minutes of consultation per month.
On August 21, 2014, the district convened an IEP team meeting with the student’s parent to discuss IEP revisions. The district and the parent agreed to add several specific classroom accommodations to the IEP, such as voice-to-text software for all writing assignments, general education and special education teacher planning time to discuss accommodations, shortened writing assignments, and audio texts in the general education setting.
In addition to the academic struggles, the student began experiencing undiagnosed health issues midway through the student’s freshman year. The health issues remained undiagnosed until midway through the student’s sophomore year. The student’s health did not significantly impact attendance until the first semester of the student’s sophomore year. The student’s absences became particularly pronounced in November 2014.
The student’s annual IEP team meeting took place on Monday, December 15, 2014. At that point in the semester, the student had missed approximately 20 full or partial school days due to his health issues, and a few days due to a behavioral suspension.
On December 12, 2014, the Friday before the annual IEP team meeting, the student’s pediatrician faxed the school nurse a note recommending a homebound program for the student. The school nurse did not receive the note until the following Monday, and she did not attend the annual IEP team meeting taking place on that day.
At the annual IEP team meeting, the IEP team discussed the student’s attendance and determined that the absences were adversely affecting the student’s learning. None of the participants at the meeting knew that the pediatrician had suggested homebound instruction for the student, and the IEP team did not discuss homebound services. The team reviewed and revised the student’s IEP, but the new version of the IEP did not include supports or strategies designed to address the student’s absences.
Following the IEP team meeting, the student’s parent attended an appointment with the pediatrician. At that appointment, the parent learned about homebound services for the first time. The parent immediately returned to the school and spoke with the district’s director of special education about homebound services. The director provided the parent with written information about homebound services. In relevant part, this information stated, “If your child currently has an IEP, you should request the IEP team reconvene for your child as part of your request for homebound instruction.”
On December 17, 2014, the director sent an email to the student’s parent as a follow-up. In the email, the director invited the parent to make a written request for homebound services by replying to the email. The parent immediately replied and requested homebound instruction. The director sent another email asking the parent to clarify that she was, in fact, requesting an IEP team meeting to determine supports and services. The parent replied in the affirmative.
During this email exchange, the director also requested medical information releases for all of the student’s medical providers and explained that the district would schedule the IEP team meeting upon receipt of the releases. The student’s parent explained that the district already had these releases, but she nonetheless offered to go to the school and sign new releases.
On December 18, 2014, the director of special education informed the student’s parent that the releases were awaiting the parent’s signature at the school’s front office. The next day, December 19, 2014, was the last day of school before the winter holiday.
Inclement weather extended the holiday break until January 6, 2015. On the day the school term recommenced, the student’s parent sent another email to the director of special education asking about the IEP team meeting. On January 14, 2015, the director of special education and the student’s special education teacher called the student’s parent and scheduled an IEP team meeting for January 21, 2015.
Between the initial discussion surrounding homebound services in December and the IEP team meeting in January, the student accrued 15 additional full day absences due to his health condition.
Prior to the January IEP team meeting, the school nurse had been communicating with the student’s medical providers in order to create an individualized health plan for the student. Immediately before the IEP team meeting, the nurse received a note from one of the student’s medical providers indicating that returning to school fulltime would help with the student’s symptoms and hopefully help with the student’s academic career in the future.
The school nurse attended the January IEP team meeting and provided this information to the IEP team. The IEP team, including the student’s parent, agreed that the student should remain in school and not receive homebound services. After the IEP team meeting, the student’s absences declined significantly.
Whether the district properly provided FAPE to a student with a disability
A school district must provide FAPE to each student with a disability. A district meets its obligation to provide FAPE to a student with a disability, in part, by providing special education and related services as described in the student’s IEP. Additionally, when a student with a disability has a significant number of absences, the district has a duty to take timely action to provide the student FAPE. The district may modify the student’s educational program or placement to address the absences. At issue in this case is whether the district appropriately implemented the student’s IEP during the spring semester of the student’s freshman year, and whether the district properly responded to the student’s absences during the fall semester of the student’s sophomore year.
The special education and general education teachers’ consultation implemented the 20 minutes a month requirement contained in the relevant IEP, and the IEP did not provide for the modification of classroom materials. Accordingly, the district properly provided special education and related services as described in the student’s IEP. Moreover, during the summer, the district appropriately revised the IEP to include modifications of the student’s learning materials and to provide consultation time specific to these modifications.
In this case, the district did not, however, take timely action to address the absences during the fall semester of the student’s sophomore year. Excluding absences for school activities, the student missed approximately 40 full or partial days of school during this semester. Notwithstanding the determination that the absences were adversely affecting the student’s learning, the district did not revise the IEP at the December 15th IEP team meeting in order to address the needs, or timely conduct an IEP team meeting to address the absences. As a result, the student did not receive FAPE during this period of time.
Whether the district properly responded to the parent’s request for an IEP team meeting
A parent may request an IEP team meeting at any time, and a district should respond to any reasonable request from a parent for a meeting to review the student’s IEP. The student’s parent requested an IEP team meeting, in writing, on December 17, 2014. The district did not convene the IEP team meeting until January 21, 2015. The district delayed scheduling the meeting because the district wanted information from the student’s medical providers prior to discussing the possibility of homebound instruction. The department determines that, based on the facts of this case, even with the difficulty of obtaining medical information and the intervening holiday break, holding an IEP team meeting more than a month after the request was too long of a delay—particularly considering the student’s excessive absences during that period.
Whether the district properly determined placement for the student
The student’s IEP team met on January 21, 2015, to determine the student’s placement. The IEP team considered the option of homebound services. The IEP team properly determined the student’s placement.
Within 30 days from the date of this decision, the district must submit a corrective action plan to ensure timely IEP team meetings in response to parental requests. In addition, the student’s IEP team must determine the compensatory services required due to the district’s failure to take timely action when the student accrued a significant number of absences during the fall semester of the student’s freshman year. The district must submit a copy of the IEP to the department within ten days of the IEP team meeting.
//signed CST 4/17/2015
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support