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IDEA Complaint Decision 17-041

On June 6, 2017, 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 the complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2016-17 school year, properly addressed incidents of alleged bullying involving a student with a disability.

School districts have an obligation to ensure that a student with a disability who is the target of bullying behavior continues to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in accordance with his or her individualized education program (IEP). The district should, as part of its appropriate response to the bullying, convene the IEP team to determine whether, as a result of the effects of the bullying, the student’s needs have changed such that the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit. If the IEP is no longer designed to provide a meaningful educational benefit to the student, the IEP team must then determine to what extent additional or different special education or related services are needed to address the student’s individual needs; and revise the IEP accordingly. The student’s IEP team should exercise caution when considering a change in the placement or the location of services provided to the student with a disability who was the target of the bullying behavior and should keep the student in the original placement unless the student can no longer receive FAPE in the current least restrictive environment (LRE) placement. While it may be appropriate to consider whether to change the placement of the child who was the target of the bullying behavior, placement teams should be aware that certain changes to the education program of a student with a disability (e.g., placement in a more restrictive “protected” setting to avoid bullying behavior) may constitute a denial of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA’s) requirement that the school provide FAPE in the LRE. Moreover, schools may not attempt to resolve the bullying situation by unilaterally changing the frequency, duration, intensity, placement, or location of the student’s special education and related services. These decisions must be made by the IEP team including the student’s parent.

On October 19, 2016, the parent reported to the student’s classroom teacher the student was being teased and called names by classmates. The classroom teacher responded by making adjustments in classroom seating assignments and increasing the amount the teacher monitored the student. The classroom teacher did not notice any significant changes in the student’s behavior or classroom behavior at the time.

The student’s IEP team met in December to conduct a reevaluation of the student and review and revise the student’s IEP. Concerns about bullying were not raised during this meeting. The IEP team noted the student had trouble in noisy environments and the recent addition of six students to his regular education classroom had increased the noise level and added to the student’s stress. The team changed the student’s specialized instruction in math from the regular education classroom to the special education classroom to partially address the student’s noise sensitivity.

On April 13 and April 24, 2017, the parent reported to the student’s classroom teacher that the student had been reluctant to come to school as he was being bullied by classmates. The classroom teacher again increased the amount of time the teacher monitored the student, and spoke with the parent of the alleged bully. The classroom teacher noticed an increase in “meltdowns” during which the student would leave the classroom and report to the special education room. The student’s 2016-17 attendance record indicated that as of April, the student missed eight school days (one medical appointment, two vacation days, two days for a funeral, two illness days, and one full-day unexcused absence).

On June 2, 2017, the student was choked by a classmate and, as a result, the parent contacted Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and law enforcement. The parent filed formal harassment and bullying complaints with the district on June 6 and June 7. The student’s IEP team met on June 7 regarding the parent’s concerns about bullying. The IEP team reviewed the details of the June 2 incident, and discussed both the results of the principal’s investigation of the matter and steps the district had taken to address the behavior of the student’s classmates in the past. The team developed a plan for the following school year to address the student’s needs stemming from the bullying issues. As the student’s school was scheduled to close at the end of the school year, the team also discussed an appropriate school for the 2017-18 school year. The parent had identified two schools she wished the student to attend under the district’s choice program, and the student was currently on a waiting list for both schools. The IEP team developed a placement for the student at one of the schools the parent had chosen and which the team felt could successfully implement the student’s IEP.

The district did not properly respond to incidents of alleged bullying of a student with a disability in this circumstance. When the concerns were raised in April, particularly when there was a noticeable change in student behavior, the IEP team should have been reconvened. The IEP team eventually met to discuss appropriate modifications to the student’s IEP as a result of the bullying, and the evidence indicates that the delay did not result in the student being deprived of a meaningful educational benefit. As such, no student specific corrective action will be required. To ensure future compliance with IDEA requirements the district shall, within 30 days, submit to the department a corrective action plan to ensure that district staff are aware of the special obligations that arise when a student with a disability is allegedly bullied.

This concludes our review of this complaint. All noncompliance identified above must be corrected within one year of the date of this decision.

// signed BVH 8/4/17
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support
For questions about this information, contact Margaret Resan (608) 267-9158