On February 22, 2018 (form dated February 21, 2018), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX (parent) against the XXXXX (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, beginning February 22, 2017, properly responded to a parent’s request for a special education evaluation.
School districts must identify, locate, and evaluate all resident students with disabilities who are in need of special education and related services. This responsibility is often referred to as “child find.” The child find obligation extends to students attending district schools through the state’s public school open enrollment program. The child find obligation is an affirmative one. School districts may not take a passive approach and wait for others, including parents, to refer students potentially eligible to receive special education for evaluation. Each district must establish written procedures for accepting and processing referrals and provide information and in-service opportunities to its entire licensed staff to familiarize them with the district’s referral procedures. Referrals must be in writing, include the name of the student, and the reasons why the person believes that the student is a child with a disability. Any person, including the parent, who reasonably believes that a student is a child with a disability may refer the student to a local educational agency for evaluation. Under Wisconsin law, any time a district receives a referral, it must proceed with an evaluation without delay. While parents may choose to share information obtained through medical and other outside providers with school staff, districts may not delay or condition proceeding with a referral and evaluation on receiving that information.
The student who is subject to this complaint was enrolled in an online charter school which is part of the McFarland School District, during the 2016-2017 and the first part of the 2017-2018 school years. The student had not previously been identified as a student with a disability. In February 2017, the parent sent an email to an administrator at the school raising concerns about the student’s progress and requesting information about how to obtain an individualized education program (IEP) for the student. In response to that request, school staff communicated with the student’s parent and learned the student was being assessed by medical providers for a diagnosis related to the student’s sensory and behavioral needs. School staff requested the parent complete a release of information form to allow them to collect records from the student’s medical providers. The parent did not respond. On May 3, 2017, a school staff member went to the student’s home to administer a statewide assessment. The student was not able to complete the assessment. The student’s parent shared information about the student’s ongoing medical assessments and reiterated the previous request for an IEP. On September 18, 2017, a school staff member requested an update from other school staff via email regarding the student. The staff member indicated the parent had requested an evaluation in February 2017. Another district staff person responded that no such request had been received, indicated the school had never received the release of information to contact the student’s medical providers, and suggested the student receive general education interventions to begin the school year.
In mid-September 2017, a different school staff member spoke with the student’s parent on the phone. The staff member emailed other school staff following the call with a summary of the discussion. The summary indicates the parent shared information about therapies the student was receiving outside of school. The staff member raised concerns about the student’s attendance and participation in school, and the parent told the staff member about the requests for an IEP from the previous school year. Additional emails were exchanged between staff members in mid-September. The discussions indicate while several staff were aware of the student’s ongoing issues and the parent’s requests for an evaluation, no staff member informed the parent of how to make a written special education referral or initiated one. One school staff member described the attempts to obtain the parent’s consent to receive medical information during the previous school year, and indicated the school could not move forward with a special education referral until the parent either signed a release form or provided an outside medical diagnosis.
In November 2017, more emails were exchanged among school staff regarding the student. Staff indicated the parent had not provided information from medical providers that staff had requested. The student continued to demonstrate significant attendance and participation issues. In December 2017, the parent signed a release of information form allowing the school to exchange information with one of the student’s medical providers. On January 12, 2018, school staff indicated the need to follow up with the parent regarding special education. A different school staff member again indicated the parent had not provided the information needed to move forward with an evaluation.
A letter dated January 9, 2018, was mailed to the parent indicating the student’s enrollment in the school was being terminated for failure to participate in school assignments or directives. This is an acceptable reason to terminate open enrollment under Wisconsin law. The parent indicated the letter did not arrive until January 24, 2018. The student’s parent attempted to appeal the district’s decision to terminate the open enrollment to the department, but due to procedural issues, the department was not able to accept the parent’s appeal.
The district did not properly respond to the parent’s repeated requests for a special education evaluation. The district should have construed the parent’s repeated requests for an IEP as requests to conduct an evaluation. The district neither assisted the parent in completing a referral, nor informed the parent how to proceed with making a written referral. The referral and evaluation also could not be made contingent upon receiving outside medical information. Furthermore, the district did not meet its affirmative child find responsibility. The district was aware the student was experiencing significant difficulty participating in online lessons due to academic and behavioral issues. Several school staff, including teaching and administrative staff, were aware of the difficulties the student was experiencing and the parent’s requests for an IEP. The student’s parent informed the district of ongoing outside evaluations and therapies.
Since the student’s open enrollment has been terminated, the student is no longer enrolled in the school district. As such, no student specific corrective action is required. Within 30 days of this decision, the district is required to submit a corrective action plan to the department to include a review of school and district policies and procedures regarding child find, accepting and processing referrals, and ensuring all licensed staff are familiar with the district’s referral procedures. Following this review, the district must revise policies and procedures as appropriate and conduct training of all licensed school and district staff to ensure staff understand and are able to apply the policies and procedures.
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 4/23/2018