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IDEA Complaint Decision 15-031

On April 27, 2015, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Racine Unified School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2014-15 school year, properly developed the student’s individualized education program (IEP) and properly implemented the student’s IEP.

The IEP in effect at the start of the 2014-15 school year was developed on March 31, 2014. It contained a number of provisions for addressing the student’s needs including detailed information about the student’s need for constant close adult supervision (CAS) for safety, emotional regulation, and communication support. While the IEP did not use the term one-to-one aide, the understanding of IEP team participants, including the parent, was that the student would have an assigned aide to meet the student’s needs. The IEP team referenced the student’s CAS and noted the student “requires a CAS at all times during the school day.” At the time, the district had several designations of paraprofessionals including matrons, CAS, and education assistants. At some point prior to the end of the 2013-14 school year, the district consolidated these positions into one, education assistants. There appeared to be some confusion about what this consolidation meant in terms of job assignments and duties. The district sent a clarification to staff prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year and another in September indicating education assistant duties would be assigned at the school level and the needs of all students with disabilities should continue to be met as per students’ IEPs.

The student’s IEP team next met on October 27, 2014, to conduct an annual review and to revise the student’s IEP. Information provided by the district and parent indicated there was discussion about the student’s needs and the district’s revised policies around “close adult supervision.” While the team discussed increasing the student’s independence and potentially reducing the amount of one-to-one adult supervision, in the end, the IEP team agreed the student’s needs had not substantially changed. When discussing how the student’s needs would be met, district staff stated that the district’s policy about providing aide support had changed and students no longer had designated, or one-to-one, aides and all aides were to be assigned to work with multiple students. The language in the student’s IEP was changed from “requires a CAS at all times” to “requires close adult supervision to assist during the school day” to be consistent with district policy. The student was subsequently provided with CAS as written in the IEP.

Shortly after the October IEP team meeting, the student’s assigned aide left the district. The parent was assured the student would continue to receive CAS and a new aide would be hired. District staff reminded the parent that according to the district’s new policy, aides were no longer individually assigned to students, so the new aide might also work with other students. While the district’s policy was intended to consolidate the different types of aide positions and was not meant to affect the individualization of IEP services, when applied, the policy appeared to have this effect. While the district attempted at least two times, in writing, to clarify to district staff and building administrators that the policy should not affect the provision of needed IEP services to students, based on the information reviewed during this investigation, the department finds the interpretation of the revised policies led at least some IEP teams across the district to fail to consider and document the need for one-to-one adult supervision of students, even when the IEP team believed such services may be needed. School districts must ensure each student’s IEP is developed to address the student’s individual needs. The student’s IEP was not properly developed in October 2014, and in April 2015, because the language used to describe the student’s services related to the need for adult supervision and support was based on district policy rather than individual student needs.

Following a related complaint earlier in the year, the district conducted a number of corrective action activities. The district further clarified the district’s policy and developed guidelines for IEP teams to use to ensure individualized decisions regarding the need for adult supervision and support. The district also clarified that when a student’s needs require close and constant adult support (including one-to-one support), the IEP team should consider and document such needs in the student’s IEP. The student’s IEP, revised on May 15, 2015, appropriately clarifies and documents the student’s need for close and direct adult support to address the student’s communication, sensory, and behavioral needs. District wide corrective action related to this issue is ongoing.

The parent also stated the district failed to implement the student’s IEP. The parent believed the student did not receive services as written, including required sensory breaks and an iPad to support communication. While the student’s IEP noted the student was to receive a sensory break at the start and end of each class, the breaks were not provided when the student indicated not wanting a sensory break. This began to occur regularly starting in December. Staff felt their response was appropriate as the student appeared to want to remain in the classroom setting with other students. Similarly, while the iPad was offered to the student, as the year went on, the student refused to use the iPad and either turned it off or said “goodbye” when it was presented. Instead, the student was provided with and used other forms of communication including yes/no cards and picture boards. An IEP team meeting should have been held to review and revise the IEP when staff felt the student’s services needed to be changed.

Finally, the parent indicated the district failed to allow communication between the parent and the student’s aide as required by the IEP. The student’s IEPs developed in March and October required “close communication with parent and CAS via text messaging, private phone calls, or notes.” Until October, this communication occurred throughout the day, usually via cell phone. After the student’s aide left, the parent communicated regularly with the teacher. When the new aide was hired in January, the parent was informed the aide did not have a cell phone with text capability and the parent may continue communicating with the aide through the teacher. The parent was also provided the option of sending e-mail to the aide. The parent felt this was a significant change in how communication had previously occurred. The IEP revised on April 15, 2015, reflected changes related to communication between the parent and school staff, but still included the provision to communicate with school staff via text. It was not until the end of April that the school provided staff with a cell phone that the aides could use. The district failed to implement the IEP as developed between January and May 2015, with respect to communication between the parent and the aide providing close adult supervision to the student. There is no student specific corrective action needed since the parent was still able to communicate with school staff.

Within 30 days of this decision, the district must submit a corrective action plan (CAP) to the department to ensure all IEP services are implemented as written and IEP team meetings are timely held when revisions to an IEP may be required to address changes in the student’s needs. The CAP must specify a system of control that will be put in place to ensure IEPs are properly developed, IEP team decisions are properly documented, and IEPs are properly implemented. In addition, the district will continue implementing on-going corrective actions regarding the documentation of IEP team decisions about students’ individual needs for close adult supervision and support.

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 6/25/2015
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support