On March 27, 2017, and April 6, 2017, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received complaints under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the XXXXX School District. This is the department’s decision regarding those complaints. The issues are whether the district, during the 2016-17 school year:
• properly included required participants for a meeting of the individualized education program (IEP) team of a student with a disability;
• properly provided the parent of a student with a disability meaningful opportunity to participate in an IEP team meeting;
• properly conducted a special education evaluation;
• improperly predetermined the eligibility determination; and
• properly developed an IEP designed to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability.
Properly included required participants for a meeting of the individualized education program (IEP) team of a student with a disability
When a student is referred for special education, the school district must appoint an IEP team which includes at least one special education teacher who has extensive and recent training and experience related to the child's known or suspected disability. The IEP team must also include an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results. This individual can fill multiple roles.
On July 29, 2016, the school district referred the student for an evaluation to consider the student’s eligibility for a specific learning disability based on input from the parent. The parent disagreed with the district’s previous evaluation and was pursuing an independent education evaluation (IEE). During the existing data review to determine if additional assessments or evaluation materials were needed for the evaluation, the parent requested additional vision tests. The district agreed to include vision as an area to be evaluated and notified the parent that the district’s vision impairment (VI) teacher would conduct a record review and observations of the student. On September 9, 2016, the parent gave consent for the district to conduct the evaluation. An IEP team meeting was held the morning of November 21, 2016, for the purpose of evaluation, to consider information from the IEE, and to determine eligibility. The VI teacher attended the meeting and interpreted a written report provided by an optometrist, shared information related to the student’s vision that the VI teacher had collected during two separate observations of the student, including information related to orientation and mobility, and provided suggestions to use during academic tasks to address the student’s poor ocular motor control. The IEP team determined the student had a specific learning disability and speech / language impairment. Visual impairment was considered and rejected citing the student did not meet the criteria.
Following the evaluation meeting on that same day, the IEP team continued to meet to develop the student’s IEP. The VI teacher also attended the meeting to develop the student’s IEP; however, the cover sheet for this portion of the meeting did not include the VI teacher’s name or signify that she was in attendance. The parent acknowledges that the VI teacher was in attendance during both portions of the meeting and contributed to the discussions.
The school district appointed an IEP team that included a VI teacher with extensive and recent training and experience related to the student’s suspected disability and qualified to interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation results. The district notified the parent on November 4, 2016, that the VI teacher was an appointed IEP team member and would attend the November 21, 2016, IEP team meeting. Two cover sheets were electronically produced for the meeting, one for the evaluation portion, and another for the IEP development portion of the meeting. The first cover sheet included the VI teacher’s name and documented her attendance. The second cover sheet does not include the VI teacher’s name, however, the district and parent agree the VI teacher attended the IEP team meeting to develop the student’s IEP and contributed to the discussion. The omission of the VI teacher’s name from the participant list on the second cover sheet was a clerical oversight and was not intended to imply the VI teacher was not invited or was not in attendance. The district properly included required participants for a meeting of the IEP team of a student with a disability.
Properly provided the parent of a student with a disability meaningful opportunity to participate in an IEP team meeting
A school district must take steps to ensure one or both parents of a student with a disability are present at each IEP team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate by other means. The district must notify the parents of the meeting early enough to ensure they have an opportunity to attend and must schedule the meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place.
The parent attended the November 21, 2016, IEP team meeting which began at 10:15 a.m. and ended around 5:30 p.m. that day. At the end of the meeting, the parent requested the district send a draft copy of the evaluation report and IEP for the parent to review and, if needed, provide written feedback. The district agreed and sent draft copies of the evaluation report and IEP to the parent on December 1, 2016. The parent provided written feedback to the district on December 7. Several e-mails were exchanged between the district and the parent. On December 9, the district emailed final copies of the student’s evaluation report and IEP to the parent. The district provided a summary of numerous revisions to the IEP in response to the parent’s additional input. The revisions ranged from changes in word choice to additional strategies, revisions of IEP goals, procedures for measuring progress, and an increase in the amount of specially designed reading instruction in the general education classroom.
The parent attended the IEP team meeting and provided input that is documented in the evaluation report and IEP. The parent provided additional written input following the IEP team meeting that was incorporated into the final IEP. The district properly provided the parent of a student with a disability meaningful opportunity to participate in an IEP team meeting.
Properly conducted a special education evaluation
Visual impairment (VI) means, even after correction, a student's visual functioning significantly adversely affects his or her educational performance. Under Wisconsin’s VI criteria, an IEP team may identify a student as having a visual impairment after all of the following events occur: a certified teacher of the visually impaired conducts a functional vision evaluation which includes a review of medical information, formal and informal tests of visual functioning, and the determination of the implications of the visual impairment on the educational and curricular needs of the student; an ophthalmologist or optometrist finds at least one of the following: central visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the better eye after conventional correction, reduced visual field to 50° or less in the better eye, other ocular pathologies that are permanent and irremediable, cortical visual impairment, or degenerative condition that is likely to result in a significant loss of vision in the future; and an orientation and mobility specialist, or teacher of the visually impaired in conjunction with an orientation and mobility specialist, evaluates the student to determine if there are related mobility needs in home, school, or community environments.
On August 31, 2016, the parent received a reevaluation notice and consent regarding the need to conduct additional assessments. The school district notified the parent that the district’s VI teacher would evaluate the student for a visual impairment using record review and observations. The parent expressed concern to the district that the proposed record review and observations did not constitute a functional vision evaluation. The parent was reassured by the director of special education that the evaluation would include all required components for identifying a student as having a visual impairment and the parent gave consent. The VI teacher, who is also a certified orientation and mobility specialist, observed the student on September 12, 2016, and November 1, 2016, during English and math classes, as well as navigating hallways and stairways to the library and resource room. The VI teacher noted during English class, the student was able to read and copy information from the whiteboard. The student was also able to quickly read aloud a passage from a textbook and answer multiple choice questions. The student’s handwriting however was very difficult to read. Following English class, the VI teacher observed the student in math class and noted rubbing of eyes during class, head down on desk, and generally not as engaged in the board or desk work. Although the student was able to follow along during English class, during math class the student required multiple teacher prompts for each activity. Information was included in the evaluation report regarding the student’s orientation and mobility skills. The student was able to move safely within the classroom, hallways, and stairways. The VI teacher documented in the evaluation report areas of concerns related to classroom performance including legibility of the student’s writing, reading comprehension, and visual fatigue due to poor ocular motor control. During the IEP team meeting, the VI teacher also shared and interpreted an Ocular Report for Children with a Known or Suspected Visual Impairment completed by the student’s ophthalmologist. The report indicates the student has misalignment of the eyes in which one or both eyes turn outward from time to time, convergence insufficiency in which the eyes don’t work together when focusing on a nearby object, and poor development of binocularity and ocular motor control which are potentially degenerative. The student’s corrected visual acuity for distance is 20/20 in the right eye and 20/30 in the left, and near point acuity is 20/20 in both eyes without correction. There is no indication of field loss, loss of color or night vision, or cortical visual impairment. There is a deficit in depth perception. Using information provided by the student’s ophthalmologist and the VI teacher/orientation and mobility specialist, the IEP team determined the student did not meet the criteria for visual impairment citing the student’s convergence insufficiency was not permanent or irremediable. However the IEP team found the student met criteria for other health impairment citing, among other factors, chronic “ocular convergence” that adversely affects academic performance.
In this case, the VI teacher reviewed the medical information from the ophthalmologist’s report, conducted informal assessments through observations of the student in various settings, and identified educational and curricular implications. Although the VI teacher did not conduct formal assessments, when reviewing existing data, the IEP team may determine a previous functional vision evaluation is sufficient and that further testing is not necessary. The IEP team determined the ophthalmologist’s report provided sufficient information and further testing was not necessary. As stated in the department’s Eligibility Criteria for Visual Impairment Evaluation Guide:
Medical information is an essential element that provides information on eye health and also gives measurements regarding what the eye is capable of at that moment in a clinical setting. However, the way a student uses his/her vision in day-to-day activities cannot be determined with clinical information alone...Therefore, the information obtained through informal and formal assessments conducted by the teacher of the visually impaired is a crucial component of the functional vision evaluation.
Based on the VI teacher’s observations of the student in English and math classes, hallways and stairways, information regarding how the student uses vision in day-to-day activities was assessed and reliance on clinical information alone did not occur. The evaluation of visual impairment included all the required components. The district properly conducted a special education evaluation.
Improperly predetermined the eligibility determination
Upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures, the IEP team of the student determines whether the student has a disability and the educational needs of the student.
On August 16, 2016, the parent requested the district evaluate the student for a visual impairment and provided the district with a summary of a visual efficiency exam conducted on the student by an ophthalmologist on July 15, 2016. The district’s VI teacher reviewed the summary and sent an e-mail on August 29, 2016, to staff stating the student does not have a handicapping condition in the area of visual impairment and therefore the VI teacher should not be included in the evaluation process. The e-mail was forwarded to the parent and the parent expressed concerns. On August 31, 2016, the parent received a reevaluation notice and consent regarding the need to conduct additional assessments. The areas to be evaluated included vision and the VI teacher was assigned as a member of the IEP team. The VI teacher conducted an assessment. During the November 21, 2016, IEP team meeting, the IEP team considered assessment and other evaluation information and determined the student did not meet the criteria for visual impairment.
The IEP team considered data and information regarding the student’s vision and based on discussion during the meeting, made the determination that the student did not meet the criteria for visual impairment. The district acknowledges the VI teacher exercised misjudgment in her e mail comments regarding the student’s eligibility prior to the IEP team meeting. However, the district did not predetermine the student’s eligibility prior to the November 21, 2016, IEP team meeting which was scheduled for the purpose of determining eligibility.
Properly developed an IEP designed to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability
An individualized education program includes a statement of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, including how the student’s disability affects the student’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum; measurable annual goals designed to meet the student’s needs that result from the student’s disability to enable the student to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and special education services to enable the student to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals, be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.
The IEP in effect at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year was developed on June 2, 2016. The IEP includes a statement of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance and information about how the student’s disability affects the student’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. The student scored below basic levels in reading and math on statewide assessments. Concerns regarding the student’s reading comprehension, organizational skills, handwriting legibility, and class participation are documented. The student’s speech and language needs affect reading comprehension and reciprocal communication. The IEP includes goals and special education services to address the student’s speech and language needs, reading comprehension, written expression, and problem solving skills. Math was not addressed. A quarterly progress report dated November 18, 2016, indicates the student will not meet the reading goal by the end of the IEP year.
On November 21, 2016, the IEP team reevaluated the student and determined the student had a specific learning disability and revised the IEP based upon the reevaluation. The revised IEP includes an increase in the amount of specially designed instruction in reading from three times per week for 30 minutes each to five times per week for 30 minutes each. The IEP also includes a math goal and specially designed instruction in math. The IEP team also determined the student would receive nine 60-minute sessions of compensatory education services in the summer of 2017 to address the student’s IEP reading goals and nine 60-minute sessions to address IEP math goals. The district acknowledged the student had not made sufficient progress to meet the student’s IEP goals in reading, had not included needed math goals, and revised the student’s IEP by increasing the amount of specially designed instruction in reading and math, as well as providing compensatory services. The district properly developed an IEP designed to meet the unique needs of a student with a disability.
This concludes our review of this complaint.
//signed by CST 5/26/17
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support