On April 8, 2016, the Department of Public Instruction (department) 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 issue is whether the district, during the 2015-16 school year, properly considered changing the educational placement of a student with a disability following a parent’s request.
In Wisconsin, a student’s placement must be determined by the individualized education program (IEP) team. In making this determination, IEP teams must ensure to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are nondisabled. Placement decisions must be determined on an individual case-by-case basis depending on each child’s unique educational needs and circumstances and based on the student’s IEP. Placement does not refer merely to the school/building where the student receives the services, but also to the environment in which the student is receiving the services.
At least annually, school districts must hold IEP team meetings to review each student’s IEP. Parents may request an IEP team meeting at any time. A school district should grant any reasonable parent request for an IEP team meeting. A district must respond to a parent’s request for an IEP team meeting by scheduling the IEP team meeting at a mutually agreed on time and place or must provide written notice to the parent including an explanation of why the district has determined a meeting is not needed.
On December 7, 2015, the district received a referral requesting a special education evaluation of a student from a XXXXX advocate. The referral was made due to chronic poor attendance and behavior concerns. In January 2016, the student’s mother requested the student be immediately transferred to a different district high school under the district’s “Extreme Hardship Transfer” procedures. Under these procedures, parents of any student can request the transfer of a student to a new district school in situations of extreme hardship such as serious attacks, assaults, bullying, et cetera. The district did not transfer the student to a different high school.
On February 24, 2016, an IEP team meeting was conducted to determine the student’s eligibility for special education services, develop an initial IEP and determine placement. The IEP team included a regular education teacher of the student and staff from the district-wide regional initial IEP evaluation team. The student’s parent participated in the meeting by phone, and four XXXXX advocates attended the meeting in person. The IEP team determined the student was eligible for special education services and developed an initial IEP, including a statement of transition services. Although the parent and advocates requested the IEP team consider changing the student’s school, district staff said they would not discuss other school options at the meeting. District staff informed the parent that if she wanted her child to attend a different school, she should request an IEP team meeting with school-based IEP team members. The IEP does not include a description of other placement options considered and rejected.
In early March, 2016, the parent contacted the school to request an IEP team meeting to change the student’s placement. An IEP team meeting was not promptly scheduled and the district did not provide written notice to the parent including an explanation of why the district determined a meeting was not needed. On April 19, an IEP team meeting was conducted to determine continuing eligibility, review and revise the IEP, and determine continuing placement. The IEP team determined the student would attend a different district high school. On April 22, an IEP team meeting was held and transportation, as a related service, was added to the student’s IEP.
Between January 7, 2016, and April 26, 2016, the student did not attend school. Although the school district followed its truancy procedures, the student’s IEP team was not reconvened to discuss and address the student’s absences, and the IEP does not include any services specific to improving the student’s attendance. The district did not properly consider changing the educational placement of the student with a disability following the parent’s request.
Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must conduct an IEP team meeting to determine compensatory services due to the delay in responding to the parent’s request to change the student’s placement and for not reconvening an IEP team meeting to discuss and address the student’s absences. The IEP team must also review and revise the student’s IEP to address the student’s chronic attendance issues. Within 10 days of the IEP team meeting, a copy of the IEP must be provided to the department, with documentation of the compensatory services to be provided. Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must develop a corrective action plan to include a review and if necessary, revision, of district wide initial IEP team procedures and “Extreme Hardship Transfer” procedures to determine if the procedures contribute to delays in determining placement for students with IEPs. In addition, the district must provide professional development to the staff at the student’s original school of attendance to ensure they timely respond to a parent’s request for an IEP team meeting and that they must conduct an IEP team meeting when there are significant student absences.
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 6/6/2016
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support