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IDEA Complaint Decision 20-028

On March 5, 2020, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint from XXXXX (complainant) against the XXXXX (district). This is the department’s decision regarding this complaint. The issues are whether, during the 2019-20 school year, the district properly developed and implemented the individualized education program (IEP) of a student with a disability, properly changed the student’s placement, and properly provided prior written notice of a proposed change of placement to the student’s parent.

Whether the district properly developed and implemented the IEP of a student with a disability.

School districts meet their obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to each student with a disability, in part, by developing a program based on the student’s unique, disability related needs that is reasonably calculated to enable the student to make progress appropriate in light of the student’s circumstances, documenting that program in the IEP, and implementing the program as articulated in the IEP. For most students, the IEP must be designed to allow the student to progress from grade to grade, but if that is not possible, the IEP should be appropriately ambitious in light of the child’s circumstances. (34 CFR §§ 300.320-300.324; Wis. Stat. § 115.78[2]; Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 137 S.Ct. 988). Under Wisconsin law, IEPs of students in effect when a student turns 14 must include a postsecondary transition plan (PTP) consisting of measurable postsecondary goals for the student based on age-appropriate transition assessments related to training/education, employment and, independent living skills (if appropriate), and a description of transition services including courses of study needed to assist the students in reaching their goals. (Wis. Stat. § 115.787[2][g]1). School districts must consider the impact of student absences on the ability of the student to make progress in the general education curriculum and toward IEP goals. If a student is absent from school for a prolonged period of time, the district must convene an IEP team meeting to discuss the student’s IEP and determine if it is necessary to modify the program or placement in order to ensure the continued provision of FAPE.

The student who is the subject of this complaint is an adult. The student’s parents are the student’s legal guardians. The student has a history of both school avoidance and elopement from school when dysregulated and anxious. The student benefits from having genuine relationships with others, knowing what to expect in situations, including consistency and foreshadowing, and knowing a safe room or safe person are readily available. The student receives daily treatment and services from non-school, community based service providers. Over the years, the student’s school program has been altered significantly to accommodate these services and treatments. The student’s parents have requested the outside therapists be allowed to deliver services in school on multiple occasions. The school district has not allowed outside therapists to work with the student in school, which is consistent with the district’s policies and procedures. The student has recently begun to work with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and has had volunteer experiences with their support. DVR staff are also seeking paid employment for the student. Given these other commitments, the student has little time available for school services. The student has historically had sporadic school attendance. The student has not attended school during the 2019-20 school year.

The student is enrolled at a district alternative school that includes programs to assist students who are credit deficient in meeting graduation requirements and a program allowing students with disabilities to progress toward meeting individualized transition goals. Per district policy, students who are extremely credit deficient can complete work and demonstrate competencies as a way to earn a diploma from the school district. During the 2018-19 school year, the student participated in one of the programs for students who are credit deficient. Despite the student’s inconsistent attendance, the student was able to demonstrate all required competencies by the end of the 2018-19 school year. The student worked one-to-one with an educational assistant with whom the student had a good relationship and rapport. The student’s IEP team determined the student would benefit from additional time in high school to work toward meeting transition goals, so the district withheld the student’s diploma.

Throughout the 2019-20 school year, district staff have reached out numerous times to attempt to engage the student in school. District staff, the student’s parents, and the student’s community support providers have met in person multiple times during the 2019-20 school year to discuss options and ideas for helping the student reconnect and re-engage with school. The student’s parents believe past difficult interactions between the student and district staff significantly damaged the student and the school’s relationship. The student’s IEP team met on February 6, 2020, to develop the student’s annual IEP and determine the student’s placement. The IEP team identified disability related needs in areas of attention/focus and school attendance. The IEP contains one annual goal carried over from the previous year’s IEP regarding employability and targets skills such as interviewing techniques, creating a business plan and resume, social interaction skills, and independent living skills. The goal also contains a short-term objective to increase the student’s social interactions while at school, from spending time with peers 0% of the time to 25% of the time the student attends. The IEP includes several supplementary aids and services, and 105 minutes per day of specially designed instruction in adaptive/self-help/employability skills. While the IEP does not mention the provision of a one-to-one educational assistant, given the nature of the student’s program, the student will receive most services in a one-to-one setting with district staff in order to implement the program appropriately. The student’s IEP also includes a PTP with postsecondary goals in the areas of education, employment, and independent living skills. The PTP includes several transition services related to job exploration, using public transportation, learning employability skills, and independent living. The majority of these skills are addressed in courses at the student’s school, and the student’s course of study in the PTP indicates the student will participate in those courses.

The district properly developed the student’s IEP and demonstrated an ongoing willingness to implement the IEP. The student’s IEP identified attendance as an area of the disability related need for the student, and staff contacted the family on multiple occasions in order to encourage the student to attend. However, due to the student’s lack of attendance, the district was ultimately not able to implement the IEP.

Whether the district properly changed the student’s placement and properly provided prior written notice of a proposed change of placement to the student’s parent.

Each student’s placement decision must be made based on the student’s IEP and individualized needs, and it must be made in accordance with the least restrictive environment requirements under state and federal special education law. The IEP team must determine the special education placement for a child with a disability during an IEP team meeting. (Wis. Stat. § 115.78[2][c]).

At the meeting on September 25, 2019, the team discussed whether a different placement might be more appropriate for the student. The team discussed a district-funded placement with a private organization that provides support to adults with disabilities, teaching daily living skills, prevocational and vocational skills, and self-regulation skills. On October 2, 2019, the student’s parent and district staff visited the organization and discussed the student’s needs with the executive director of the organization. On October 23, 2019, the executive director of the organization visited the student and family at their home, and the parent completed intake paperwork. The parent did not receive further communication from the organization. Members of the student’s IEP team were to meet on December 16, 2019, and the parent invited the organization’s executive director to join them. Nobody from the organization attended the meeting, and district staff reported the organization denied the student from admission over a voicemail message. The organization followed up with a letter indicating the student’s admission was denied, which the parent and school received after the meeting.

It is understandable the parent believed the student’s placement was changed, given the interactions with the outside organization. However, while the possible placement option was introduced at an IEP team meeting, the IEP team did not change the student’s placement. Unfortunately, communication broke down among the organization, the parent, and district staff regarding the student’s placement for several weeks. However, since the IEP team had not met to finalize the placement at the organization, the district was not required to provide the parent prior written notice. The district neither improperly changed the student’s placement nor failed to provide prior written notice of a proposed change of placement.

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 the department's website at http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/dispute-resolution for more information.

Sincerely,

//digitally signed by BVH 5/4/20
Barbara Van Haren, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support

For questions about this information, contact DPI Sped Team (608) 266-1781