On February 7, 2020, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX (complainant) against XXXXX (district). On March 25, 2020, the department verified district schools were closed pursuant to orders by public health departments and extended the 60-day time limit for the resolution of this complaint due to the existence of exceptional circumstances as provided in 34 CFR § 300.152(b)(1)(i). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2019-20 school year, properly fulfilled its responsibility to identify, locate, and evaluate a student with a disability; and properly responded to a request from a parent for a special education evaluation.
A school district must ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the district and who are in need of special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated. (34 CFR § 300.111[a]). This responsibility is often referred to as “child find.” Any person who believes a student is a student with a disability may refer the student to the district for a special education evaluation. Referrals for special education evaluations must be in writing and must include the name of the student, as well as the reasons the person making the referral believes the student is a student with a disability. Districts are responsible for informing parents about the district’s referral procedures. A copy of the procedural safeguards notice must be given to the parent upon initial referral. A person who is required to be licensed under § 115.28(7) of the Wisconsin statutes, who is employed by a school district and who reasonably believes a child has a disability, shall refer the child to the school district. (Wis. Stat. §115.777[b]). Within 15 business days of receipt of a referral, the district must send the parents a request for consent to evaluate the student. (Wis. Stat. § 115.777). Within 60 days from the receipt of the parent’s consent for testing, an IEP team meeting must be held to determine eligibility.
In October of 2019, during a parent-teacher conference, a district staff member and parent discussed the student’s academic progress. The district staff member indicated that the student could benefit from additional practice reading, which would increase the student’s oral fluency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Based on classroom observations and informal and formal assessments specific to reading, district staff did not have reason to believe the student’s academic performance was related to a disability.
On December 9, 2019, the parent contacted the district by phone and email to discuss the student’s medical diagnosis of dyslexia and learn about “special reading assistance for students with learning disabilities.” The district responded on December 12, 2019, and explained that the student could be evaluated for special education in the area of a specific learning disability (SLD), but the student must participate in reading interventions prior to the starting a special education evaluation. The staff member stated that the district intervention team would meet following winter break to determine whether the student required additional targeted support in oral fluency and comprehension.
On December 19, 2019, the student’s parent responded and again asked for information on how to start an evaluation. Although the parent did not use the exact words “special education evaluation,” evidence, in this case, demonstrates the parent’s intent was clear, and as such, the district did not properly respond to the parent’s request for a special education evaluation. The student’s parent contacted the district several times with concerns about the student’s reading and the results of the student’s external evaluation. The evidence in this complaint indicates district staff understood their obligation to refer students; however, in this instance, the licensed district staff members involved did not have reason to believe the issues with the student’s academic performance in reading were related to a disability. However, because district staff did not inform the parent how to complete a referral for a special education evaluation, and because district staff erroneously informed the parent the student must participate in interventions prior to a special education evaluation, the district did not properly respond to a request from a parent for a special education evaluation.
The district referred the student for an evaluation on January 24, 2020. Under Wisconsin’s SLD criteria, the IEP team must document that the student, after the intensive intervention, demonstrates inadequate achievement and insufficient progress in one or more following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skill, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics problem-solving. SLD criteria allow for an extension of the 60-day timeline for evaluation, with parent agreement, when an IEP team does not have sufficient time to complete required interventions and gather sufficient data to make the determination of insufficient progress. On February 3, 2020, district staff requested an extension of the 60-day timeline to allow the student time to complete interventions and the team to collect the necessary data. The student’s parent did not agree to the extension. As such, the team met on March 11, 2020, and determined it did not have sufficient information to determine the student met the SLD criteria, and therefore the student did not have a disability. As such, no student-specific corrective action is required. However, should the student be evaluated again and the team determines the student is eligible for special education before February 7, 2021, the IEP team must consider whether the student requires compensatory services due to the delay in beginning the initial evaluation.
In addition, within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must submit to the department a corrective action plan to ensure all district staff knows how to properly respond to a request from a parent for a special education evaluation.
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. 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. For more information, visit the department’s website at http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/dispute-resolution.
//digitally signed by BVH
Barbara Van Haren, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support