On April 23, 2020, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX (complainant) against XXXXX (district). This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, since March 1, 2020:
- Properly developed the individualized education program (IEP) of a student with a disability during an emergency school closure; and
- Properly implemented the IEP of a student with a disability during an emergency school closure.
Whether the district properly developed the individualized education program (IEP) of a student with a disability during an emergency school closure.
When developing the IEP for a student with a disability, the IEP team must work toward consensus, but the district has the ultimate responsibility to ensure that the IEP includes the services the student needs in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If the team cannot reach consensus, the district must provide the parents with prior written notice of the district's proposals or refusals, or both, regarding the student's educational program. (34 C.F.R. §§ 300.324 and 300.503).
In mid-March 2020, school buildings in Wisconsin were closed in response to the public health emergency created by COVID-19. Many schools began providing students distance learning options to students in the weeks that followed. On April 2, 2020, the complainant forwarded an email thread to district staff, informing them the student who is the subject of this complaint was falling behind in their distance learning coursework. The email thread included messages from the student, who indicated a need for additional assistance from special education paraprofessionals who normally worked with the student in the school building. The student also requested a workstation to use to complete coursework.
District staff responded by scheduling an IEP team meeting, which was held virtually on April 15, 2020. At the meeting, the student’s parent again requested the district provide the student additional assistance from special education paraprofessionals and a workstation during the emergency school closure. District personnel indicated that the specific paraprofessionals were not available to work with the student, as they had been furloughed during the school closure. The IEP team reviewed the student’s IEP, which did not include provision of assistance from paraprofessionals. The team discussed supports that were currently in place for the student, as well as adjustments that could be made to the student’s daily schedule. The IEP team decided to continue making modifications to the student’s online assignments. This included altering assignments and providing work packets. The IEP team also determined school staff would continue providing support to the student through four to five direct, one-on-one calls to the student per day, and that the student’s daily agenda would be altered to make it more useful and accessible to the student. The IEP team had very little discussion regarding the parent’s request for a workstation. District staff indicated a workstation would not be provided.
District staff sent the parent a “Notice of Response to an Activity Requested by a Parent” form on April 21, 2020. The form detailed the parent’s request for increased support from special education paraprofessionals, the district’s decision and reasoning for refusing this request, and notified the parent of the protections available under the procedural safeguards in state and federal special education law. However, the notice did not include information regarding the request for a workstation and did not provide any reasons for refusing the request.
The district properly convened an IEP team meeting to discuss the parent’s requests. The district also properly responded to the parent’s request for paraprofessional support by discussing the request fully at the IEP team meeting and providing the parent written notice of the decisions. However, the district did not properly address the parent’s request regarding a workstation. The discussion of the workstation during the IEP team was limited, the reasons for denying the request were not clear, and the district did not provide the parent prior written notice of the reasons for refusing the request for a workstation.
Whether the district properly implemented the IEP of a student with a disability during an emergency school closure.
School districts must provide each student with a disability a FAPE in the least restrictive environment. School districts meet their obligation to provide FAPE to each student with a disability, in part, by developing and implementing each student’s IEP. The IEP must include clear descriptions of the amount, frequency, location, and duration of services, so the school district’s commitment of resources is clear to the parent and all involved in developing and implementing the IEP. Staff responsible for implementing the student’s IEP must be informed of their specific responsibilities. IEPs must be implemented as written. (34 CFR § 300.323; Wis. Stat. § 115.787).
The student’s IEP includes supplementary aids and services, including visual aids for the student’s daily schedule and assistance with transitions specifically around the use of the student’s iPad. The student’s IEP also includes specially designed instruction in social skills, study skills, and reading comprehension.
Interviews confirm district staff provided all the supplementary aids and services and specially designed instruction that are outlined in the student’s IEP. Although some of these services were provided through different methods during the school closure, this is acceptable and is to be expected given the school closures.
The district acknowledged the parent’s concerns regarding paraprofessional support but the student’s IEP does not require the student receive such support. Under normal circumstances, when the school building was open, the student received support from those staff members. However, this support was provided to the class as a whole and not dedicated solely to the student. The district provided the student the services required by the student’s IEP in other ways during the school closure, including four to five direct, one-to-one telephone calls per day from the teacher to the student. The district properly implemented the student’s IEP during the emergency school closure.
Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must review and, if necessary, revise district policies and procedures to ensure the district properly provides prior written notice in response to parent requests. The district must submit the results of this review to the department by August 31, 2020.
No further corrective action is required as a result of this complaint investigation. However, given the emergency school closure, the district is required to determine whether and to what extent additional services are required for each student with a disability per DPI Information Update Bulletin 20.01: Additional Services due to Extended School Closures. This determination should be made as soon as possible after sufficient data has been obtained to make the determination and no later than the first six months of the 2020-21 school term.
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 or contact the special education team at (608) 266-1781.
//digitally signed by BVH on 6/22/20
Barbara Van Haren, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support