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IDEA Complaint Decision 16-039

On April 28, 2016 the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the De Forest Area School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2015-16 school year, properly afforded the parent of a student with a disability the opportunity to participate in individualized education program (IEP) team meetings.

The parents of a student with a disability must be afforded an opportunity to meaningfully participate in IEP team meetings. School districts must take steps to ensure the student’s parents are present at each IEP Team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate, including notifying parents of the meeting early enough to ensure they will have an opportunity to attend, and scheduling the meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place. When the parents of a student with a disability are separated, parental rights under the special education law generally apply to both parents unless a court order states otherwise. A biological or adoptive parent is presumed to be a parent for purposes of special education law unless they do not have legal authority to make educational decisions for the student or there is a judicial order specifying that another person is the parent for the purposes of special education law.  

The student’s mother and father have joint custody, with primary placement with the student’s father and placement one day a week with the student’s mother. In addition, the student lives with grandparents during the school week. The student’s annual IEP team meeting was held on November 5, 2015. Prior to this date, the district had limited contact with the student’s mother. The district did not have current contact information for the student’s mother in their electronic database, and did not provide the student’s mother notice of the IEP team meeting. The mother did not attend the meeting. Prior to the November meeting, the district had an obligation to make reasonable attempts to obtain her contact information and to document those efforts. When the district failed to provide notice to the student’s mother about the IEP team meeting, it failed to properly afford her the right to participate in the meeting.

The district had sufficient contact with the student’s mother to be aware that she should be afforded the opportunity to participate in the student’s IEP team meetings. In complicated situations of custody and placement such as this, districts cannot rely solely on contact information provided at the time of registration and should keep detailed records of its efforts to include both parents in IEP team meetings. Since the November meeting, the district has updated the mother of the student’s contact information and shared records with her. In the future, the district will notify the student’s mother of all IEP team meetings.

At the discretion of the parent or the district, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise about the student may be included in IEP team meetings. The determination of whether the individual has the required knowledge or expertise is made by the party who invited the individual to be a member of the IEP team. The student’s father gave the district permission to invite and include the student’s grandparents in IEP team meetings, and to provide them access to the student’s educational records. The district had ongoing contact with the student’s grandparents, and they were invited as individuals with special knowledge or expertise about the student. The student’s grandparents were properly invited to the IEP team meetings.  

District staff admitted they do not routinely consider who is and who is not a parent under special education law. Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must develop a corrective action plan and submit it to the department to ensure district staff is aware of who constitutes a parent under special education law and to ensure those individuals are afforded the opportunity to participate in IEP team meetings.

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 6/27/2016
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support