On October 12, 2017 (form dated October 6, 2017), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Hudson School District (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2017-2018 school year,
- Properly implemented an individualized education plan (IEP) regarding reading services to be provided; and
- Properly conducted an evaluation to determine the student’s assistive technology needs; and
- Improperly shortened the school day of a student with a disability.
Implementation of IEP
Each student’s IEP must include a statement of the special education, related services, supplementary aids and services, and program modifications or supports for school staff to be provided based on each student’s unique needs. IEPs must describe services so the level of the district’s commitment of resources is clear to parents and other IEP team members. The description of the amount, frequency, location, and duration of each service must be appropriate to the specific service and stated in the IEP, in a manner clear to all who are involved in both the development and the implementation of the IEP. All services must be provided as described in the IEP. IEP teams are not required to identify which type of qualified school staff will deliver instructional services within an IEP. However, if an IEP team chooses to specify the type of staff, the district must provide appropriate staff to implement the services as determined by the IEP team.
At an IEP team meeting held on February 27, 2017, the team determined the student would receive direct reading instruction for three sessions per week with a contracted Orton Gillingham (OG) instructor and special education teacher during the duration of the IEP, from March 27, 2017, until March 26, 2018. The OG contracted instructor decided not to return to the district at the start of the 2017-18 school year. During interviews, district staff acknowledged the reading services were provided by the special education teacher but were not also provided by an OG contracted instructor as outlined in the IEP at the start of the school year. An IEP team meeting was convened on September 14, 2017. The student’s reading instruction was changed to three sessions per week delivered by the special education teacher who would be observed by a contracted OG instructor. The IEP team discussed compensatory services, and the district offered to increase the amount of direct reading instruction, but the parent felt that it would be too much for the student to manage at that time. The IEP team agreed that compensatory services would be discussed in the future. Although the district did not implement the IEP as written at the start of the 2017-18 school year, it offered compensatory services. No further student-specific corrective action is needed.
School districts are required to provide assistive technology devices or services to a student with a disability if the student’s IEP team determines the student needs an assistive technology device or service in order to receive a free appropriate public education. Consistent with this responsibility, school districts must ensure each IEP team has sufficient information to permit the IEP team to determine the student’s assistive technology needs. Under federal special education law, the term "evaluation" is defined as "procedures… to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services that the child needs." Districts must follow required procedures and timelines in conducting evaluations.
The district has an internal procedure called the Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) process. According to written procedures regarding the SETT process provided by the district, any member of an IEP team is able to request an assistive technology evaluation by contacting a member of the Assistive Technology (AT) Team. The AT Team member works with the IEP team to review the question presented. If the IEP team identifies a specific device to try, the AT Team member locates the device and gets it to the team. The IEP team is then responsible for data collection over a time period of 4-6 weeks. The AT Team member follows up with the IEP team at the end of the trial period to determine next steps.
At the IEP team meeting held on February 27, 2017, the IEP team discussed the student’s need for additional assistive technology beyond what was being provided pursuant to the current IEP. After the IEP meeting on February 27, 2017, the district sent a notice to the complainant proposing the following changes to the student’s IEP: “Assistive Technology Evaluation using the SETT process, in the areas of writing and accessing of print materials to be read to [student’s name].”
On April 4, 2017, the complainant contacted the district to inquire about the status of the evaluation. On May 10, 2017, the complainant again contacted the district. On May 31, 2017, district staff contacted the complainant and noted “Although the AT team had met earlier this spring and developed some ideas to provide [student’s name] with access to general education curriculum, we have not been able to proceed with the ‘next steps.’… we are going to have to wait until we return in August to do this…” The AT team met with the complainant on July 26, 2017, to discuss the student’s assistive technology needs.
Given the scope of the information conducted by the SETT team, the district should have conducted a reevaluation, and followed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) evaluation timelines and procedures. The SETT team did not simply provide recommendations for devices based on existing student information and IEP team determinations; rather the team engaged in a process to collect additional information about the student to inform the determination of what devices might be appropriate. The district is required to review and revise its policies and practices to ensure special education evaluations, including those to determine student needs around assistive technology, follow required IDEA procedures and timelines, and submit a copy of the revised policies within 60 days from the date of this decision. In addition, the district is required to hold an IEP team meeting within 20 days from the date of this decision to determine whether compensatory services are required due to the delay in the student’s assistive technology evaluation, and submit documentation to the department within 10 days of the meeting.
Shortened School Day
Students with disabilities must attend school for the same number of hours and minutes as non-disabled students unless a student’s individualized education program (IEP) team determines the length of a student’s school day must be modified based on a student’s unique, disability-related needs. A school district may not reduce a student’s instructional time by starting the student’s school day later or releasing the student earlier than nondisabled peers in order to accommodate a transportation schedule.
The IEP developed on February 27, 2017, included special transportation daily for the student to and from school. According to interviews with district staff, the school day for the student began at 8:55 a.m. and classes were dismissed at 3:40 p.m. The complainant alleges the student was released from class early to take the special transportation bus home from school. The complainant shared an e-mail, dated October 2, 2017, from the child’s regular education teacher after the complainant had inquired about the student’s interaction with the bus driver. The regular education teacher replied that the student “has been going out after the bell with the other kids, and had been going a little earlier (around 3:30 p.m.) previously.” District staff explained that the student left the classroom at 3:30 p.m. during the first two weeks of school during the 2017-18 school year to meet with his special education teacher to discuss his day, review his assignment book and get backed up for the day. Once the routine was established, this support was discontinued. The bus schedule for the district shows the bus pick-up between 3:40 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. depending on when all students had boarded the bus. There is no evidence to show the student was released from school early to accommodate a transportation schedule.
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:BVH 12/8/2017