On September 16, 2019 (form dated September 16, 2019), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX (complainant) against the XXXXX (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, since September 16, 2018, properly changed the educational placement of a student with a disability.
School districts must provide each student with a disability a free appropriate public education. To the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities must be educated with their nondisabled peers, and removal from the regular education environment should only occur if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. In Wisconsin, the individualized education program (IEP) team, including the student’s parents, must determine placement for a student with a disability. (34 CFR §§ 300.320-300.324; Wis. Stats. § 115.78).
The student who is the subject of this complaint has an IEP indicating the student’s behavior impacts the student’s learning and the learning of others. The student’s IEP contains positive interventions and supports, including a visual schedule and supports for communication of information, self-regulation breaks during the day, and the implementation of a behavior intervention plan (BIP). The student’s IEP also includes specially designed instruction in functional academic and life skills as well as related services, including occupational therapy, speech and language services, physical therapy, and services from an educational audiologist.
On April 12, 2019, the student had a physical incident with school staff. This prompted district staff to make changes to the student’s day effective April 16, 2019, which included a change in the student’s case manager, resource room, school drop off location, and locker. Review of records and interviews confirm that the student’s daily schedule, supplementary aids and services, specially designed instruction, and related services did not change and remained consistent with those outlined in the IEP. The student’s parents were informed of these changes via email on April 15, 2019. This does not constitute a change in educational placement as the assignment of a specific classroom or teacher is an administrative decision that is not required to be made by the IEP team.
During the 2018-19 school year, district staff exchanged several emails with the parents about possible placement options, and there were follow-up discussions. A private school placement was mentioned in emails to the student’s parents on October 30, 2018, November 5, and November 14. The student’s parents requested a shortened day for the student at their current school on April 29, 2019.
On May 2, 2019, the IEP team met with the designated purpose of determining the student’s educational placement as the student’s physical incidents at school had increased since the beginning of April. School staff thought that a change in placement would reduce the occurrence of physical incidents and increase the amount of time spent on academic tasks. District staff also had safety concerns for the student and staff working with the student in the current placement. Although placement options had previously been discussed throughout the school year, these were not discussed at the IEP team meeting. Rather, the placement agreed upon prior to the IEP team meeting was the student would finish the 2018-19 school year at the current school on a shortened day, and the student would begin attending a private school at district expense in the 2019-20 school year.
The determination and notice of placement document indicates that placement at a different private school was considered but not chosen as the parents did not believe that placement was appropriate. It also indicates that a full day placement at the student’s then-current school was considered and rejected because a shortened day was determined to be appropriate based on the student’s disability related needs. The district included the student’s parents in the placement determination process and did not unilaterally predetermine the student’s educational placement. However, the district did not properly discuss a continuum of placement options with the full IEP team at the IEP team meeting on May 2, 2019, before coming to a decision. The district did not properly change the educational placement of a student with a disability.
Given that the student is making progress in their current placement and both parties agree that the current placement is appropriate, no corrective action is required. This concludes our review of this complaint. This decision is final for the IDEA State Complaint process. These issues may be addressed through other dispute resolutions, including mediation and due process hearings. Visit http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/dispute-resolution for more information.
//digitally signed by BVH 11/12/19
Barbara Van Haren, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support