On January 9, 2018, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX (parents) against the Appleton Area School District (district). This is the department’s decision regarding the complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2017-2018 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 school should, as part of its appropriate response to the bullying, convene the student’s 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 meaningful educational benefit.
The student was initially determined eligible for special education on July 17, 2017. The student’s IEP team met on August 31, 2017, to determine whether the student’s IEP could be implemented at the school the parents had selected as part of the district’s choice program. The IEP team determined the student’s needs could be met in the selected school. The IEP team met again on October 10, 2017, to review the student’s progress. The IEP team documented that the student had generally transitioned well to the new school but noted the parents’ concerns that the student was having some difficulty making friends.
On October 12, 2017, the parents reported to the student’s special education teacher that the student had been hip-checked by a fellow student and addressed the student using a derogatory term. On November 3, the parents reported further difficulties with bullying. Subsequently, the parents met with the school’s principal to discuss these concerns. Following the meeting the principal met with the students identified as engaging in the bullying behavior and imposed consequences pursuant to school policy.
On November 27, 2017, the parents shared their concerns regarding what they perceived as ongoing bullying behavior at the student’s school at a district’s board of education (board) meeting. Following the meeting, the board directed an assistant superintendent to investigate the parent’s concerns. On December 5, 2017, the parents reported another incident of bullying to the school which had occurred during physical education class. The district conducted an investigation into this matter and again imposed consequences pursuant to school policy. On December 6, 2017, the board issued a letter to the parent indicating the investigation into the parents’ concerns had been completed and that the board believed district staff had responded to the alleged bullying consistent with district policy.
On December 14, 2017, the student’s IEP team met to discuss the student’s current needs in light of the bullying issues. The team noted the student was doing well academically, was participating in classes, and had begun to develop some friendships. The team reviewed the parent’s concerns that the student’s anxiety level was increasing due to the negative interactions with other students during unstructured times. The principal, present at the meeting, informed the parents that school staff had been alerted to the problems occurring during unstructured times and had been directed to increase their supervision. The team determined the student’s IEP contained services appropriate to meet the student’s current needs, and no additional special education services or supports were necessary. By addressing the parent’s concerns through its anti-bullying policy and convening the student’s IEP team to consider the effect of the bullying on the student, the district properly addressed incidents of alleged bullying of a student with a disability.
This concludes our review of this complaint which we are closing. This decision is final for the IDEA State Complaint process.
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support