On June 1, 2020, 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, during the 2019-20 school year, properly implemented the individualized education plan (IEP) of a student with a disability.
On March 12, 2020, an IEP team met to develop an annual IEP and determine placement for the student who is the subject of this complaint. At the meeting, the team determined the student would receive homebound educational services and documented that the “student will meet with teachers one time weekly” to go over weekly assignments. The IEP also included specially designed instruction in language arts and math and a supplementary aid and service indicating that tests will be read aloud when the purpose of the test is not to assess the student’s reading ability. The student’s IEP was to be implemented beginning on March 13.
On March 13, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 health emergency, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) issued a statewide order closing school effective March 18, 2020. On March 17, 2020, DHS issued a new statewide order closing school for all in-person pupil instruction and extracurricular activities. DHS extended this order until June 30, 2020. The district chose to close all its school buildings as of March 15, 2020. On March 18, 2020, after two school days with no instruction to allow staff to plan, the district began providing all students distance learning via virtual instruction.
School districts must provide equal access to educational opportunities to students with disabilities during extended school closures if those opportunities are provided to the general student population during that time, including the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). When a school has been closed according to a statewide order, each student with a disability must be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible. The exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 health emergency affected the way in which all educational services were provided during the period of the statewide order. School districts employed different instructional methodologies or different formats, such as distance learning, to continue to provide special education services during the statewide school closures. (U.S. Department of Education, Questions, and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, March 12, 2020, and Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities, March 21, 2020).
Beginning on March 18, 2020, the district provided the student both general education instruction and specially designed instruction in language arts and math per the student’s IEP through distance and virtual learning until the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The student was able to complete and submit some required classwork but requested additional help in understanding the materials. The student attended some optional virtual class meetings. However, the district did not arrange for the student to meet virtually with a teacher each week to discuss assignments as required by the student’s IEP. District staff maintains teachers were available upon student request; however, the IEP required weekly meetings.
Further, the district acknowledges it did not arrange to have the student’s tests read aloud as required by the IEP. While it is commendable that the district responded quickly to the public health emergency and extended school closure by changing the method educational services were provided to all students, the district should have also arranged to implement the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible. It is reasonable to expect the district, through distance education, to be able to arrange a time for the teacher to meet with the student remotely once per week and for the student’s tests to be read aloud. The district did not properly implement the student’s IEP from March 18, 2020, until the end of the school year.
The district must conduct an IEP meeting with the parents to determine the extent of the additional services required for the failure to implement the student’s IEP. The district must send a copy of the IEP documenting the additional services to the department within ten days of the IEP team meeting. For more information, see DPI Information Update Bulletin 20.01 Additional Services due to Extended School Closures at http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/laws-procedures-bulletins/bulletins/20-01.
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.