On October 28, 2106, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Racine Unified School District (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district beginning on October 28, 2015:
- properly provided a continuum of alternative placements to meet the needs of students with disabilities;
- properly determined placement for students with disabilities based on the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate to meet each student’s individualized needs; and
- properly implemented the individualized education programs (IEPs) of students with disabilities.
Whether the district properly provided a continuum of alternative placements to meet the needs of students with disabilities
A local educational agency (LEA) must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of students with disabilities for special education and related services. A continuum should make available instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals, and institutions as appropriate to the individual needs of students. A continuum is not merely a list of generally available options, rather it is a conceptual framework for describing a LEA’s obligation to meet the individual needs of students in the regular classroom and beyond.
The complainants allege the continuum offered by the district is not based on the actual needs of students attending district schools. The complainants further allege the district’s written guidance, “Racine Unified School District’s Special Education Specialized Programs,” is not comprehensive, and does not identify education in the regular classroom as the preferred alternative for all students. The department interviewed district staff involved in making placement determinations for students with disabilities. The district makes instruction available in a wide range of settings based on the needs of individual students, and demonstrated a commitment to explore alternative placements when appropriate. Likewise, staff demonstrated an understanding that education in the regular classroom is the required starting point for all placement discussions. The district’s guidance is intended to provide information about potential special education programming options. It is not intended to be an exclusive list and the department did not find evidence that it was used in this way. The department, though, does strongly recommend that the document be revised to remind IEP teams that students with disabilities must be educated in the LRE. The district properly provides a continuum of alternative placements to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Whether the district properly determined placement for students with disabilities based on the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate to meet each student’s individualized needs
In Wisconsin, a student’s IEP team determines the appropriate educational placement for the student. In determining the appropriate educational placement for a student, the IEP team must observe LRE requirements. The IEP team must ensure that the student is educated, to the maximum extent appropriate, with students who are not disabled. Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal from the regular education environment should only occur if education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. A student should not be removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.
The complaint identified 10 students as being inappropriately placed in relation to the LRE requirements. Department staff reviewed the IEP records of each of the students and interviewed staff who had participated in the student’s placement determination. For each student, the IEP team appropriately determined the student’s placement in the LRE based on the student’s individual needs. However, several of the IEP teams failed to adequately document required LRE items in the student’s IEP. Specifically, IEP teams failed to explain why the student required removal from the regular education environment, and failed to document other placement options considered and the reasons rejected.
As corrective action for these students, within 30 days from the date of this decision, the district must reconvene the IEP teams to discuss and appropriately document missing LRE requirements, and provide copies to the department by March 1, 2017.
Related to the LRE issue, the complaint raised additional concerns about the district’s Intensive Needs Classroom (INC) program. Department staff toured all facilities including “sensory” and “calming” spaces. Instructional and administrative staff were interviewed, and seclusion and restraint data was reviewed. The INC program is housed in the same facility as the district’s other alternative programs; students participating in INC do not have contact with students in these other programs. Each class generally has fewer than 10 students with at least one instructor and support staff. The program seeks to meet the acute social and emotional needs of its students with the goal of having them return to a less-restrictive environment in the district. No violations of state or federal special education law were identified as stemming from the district’s operation of the INC program.
Whether the district properly implemented the individualized education programs (IEPs) of students with disabilities
An LEA is responsible for ensuring that each student with a disability receives a free appropriate public education by providing special education and related services in conformity with the student’s IEP. The student’s IEP must be accessible to each regular education teacher, special education teacher, or service provider who is responsible for its implementation. In addition, the LEA must inform all regular education teachers, special education teachers, or other providers of their specific responsibilities related to implementing each student’s IEP. The expectation is each service should be implemented as written, including the amount, frequency, and location.
The complaint identified 11 students whose IEP’s were not implemented as written. Department staff reviewed each student’s IEP and interviewed staff responsible for implementing the IEP. In several instances, the student’s IEP was not being implemented as written. As corrective action for these students, within 30 days from the date of this decision, the district must reconvene the IEP teams of these students to discuss and document any required compensatory services necessary to address the service(s) not provided, and provide copies to the department by March 1, 2017.
To ensure future compliance with documentation and implementation requirements, the district will, within 30 days, submit to the department a corrective action plan for approval. The corrective action plan must include the following:
- review and revise the district’s internal control system to ensure that LRE requirements are appropriately documented in the student’s IEP and that all IEPs are implemented;
- in conjunction with department staff, monitor the implementation of IEPs in all district schools; and
- in conjunction with department staff, develop and implement a professional development plan to ensure compliance with these requirements.
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 1/26/2017
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support