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IDEA Complaint Decision 15-014

On March 3, 2015, 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 2014-15 school year, properly shortened the student’s school day, and developed and implemented an individualized education program (IEP) that addresses the behavioral needs of a student with a disability.

The IEP must be developed to address the disability-related needs of the student, and when behavior is identified as a factor that impedes the learning of the student and/or others, the district must consider the use of positive behavioral interventions, supports, and strategies to address the behavior. In rare circumstances a student’s day may be shortened when the IEP team determines that a shortened day is required based on the student’s individualized disability-related needs. Any plan to reduce a student’s day must include a plan to increase the amount of time the student spends in school to that of typical students.

The student receives special education services, and is identified under the area of emotional behavioral disability. The student enrolled in the school district at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year. At the beginning of the school year, the student attended a full-day treatment program. Due to the student’s significant mental health needs, the student required intensive therapy and was able to receive limited academic instruction. The day treatment program incorporated some academic services, but its primary focus was on providing therapy. In consultation with staff from the day treatment program, the IEP team determined that as the student responded to the therapy, the amount of academic services and the length of the school day would increase. In September, the student received one hour of academics daily at the school district, and the remainder of time the student received therapy at the day treatment program. In October, the student also began to receive services from a private after-school program, where he received academic services and additional therapy.

Throughout the school year, the student’s progress was reviewed at least monthly, and the amount of academic instruction the student received at school was increased as the amount of therapy decreased. This was done in consultation with school staff, service providers from both the day treatment program and the after-school program, and the student’s parent. The student’s IEP was revised accordingly as the changes were made and agreed upon. By March 2015, the student was attending school in the district for half of the school day, and receiving day-treatment therapy and services from the after-school program for the remainder of the day.

On March 6, 2015, the student was successfully discharged from the day treatment program, but continued to receive services in the after-school program. The district conducted an IEP team meeting on March 23, 2015. The IEP team noted that the student had recently demonstrated more aggressive behaviors and believed it was due to the transition out of the day treatment program. The student, in general, has difficulty with transitions. The IEP team determined the student would remain on the shortened school day schedule to provide him with a period of adjustment before additional changes were made. Another IEP team meeting was planned for April 2015, to review the plan for returning the student to a full school day.

The district’s spring break was held March 30, through April 6, 2015, and the student was out of school from April 6, through April 17, 2015, for medical leave. The student has now returned to the school half days. The district is in the process of scheduling an IEP team meeting to increase the school day and discuss how to prepare the student for transition to high school next year.

The student’s IEP includes goals to address the student’s behavioral needs that are measurable. Behavior is identified as a factor that impedes the student’s learning and that of others, and the IEP includes positive individualized behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address that behavior. These behavioral supports were implemented throughout the school year. School staff consistently provided the student with breaks, redirection, movement opportunities, choices, and modeled calm responses and demeanor for the student. Staff noted that the student responded particularly well when he was given space and wait time to cool down. School staff also supported and reinforced the strategies the student has learned through the day treatment and the after-school programs.

The student has made academic gains during the 2014-15 school year. Staff reported that the student’s academic skills are better than what the student believes they are, and there is a need for staff to continue to work with the student so he can gain more confidence and comfort in the academic setting. The student has also made gains behaviorally. The student is able to recognize and ask for a break when needed and is able to successfully use strategies to help him become calmer when he begins to feel upset or angry.

The district has a plan in place for increasing the student’s day to a full school day as soon as the student is able. The school district consulted frequently with the student’s parent, teachers, and outside providers to determine the student’s current therapy needs, as well as tolerance for the school environment, and continually increased the length of the school days as the student’s need for day treatment was reduced. The district properly shortened the student’s day based on the unique disability related needs of the student, provided a plan for returning the student to a full school day, and properly developed and implemented an IEP that addresses the behavioral needs of the student.

This concludes our review of this complaint. 

//signed CST 5/1/2015
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support