On February 8, 2021 (form dated February 3, 2021), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from #### (complainant) against the ##### (district). This is the department’s decision in this complaint. The issue identified is whether the district, during the 2020-21 school year, properly developed the individualized education program (IEP) for a student with a disability regarding transition services and graduation.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts must make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to all students with disabilities. A student’s eligibility to receive special education under IDEA ends when the student graduates with a regular high school diploma or at the end of the school year in which the student turns 21.
Beginning during the school year when a student with a disability reaches age 14 and updated each year after, the student’s IEP must include a statement of appropriate, measurable postsecondary goals for the student based on age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills. (Wis. Stat. § 115.787[g]). The IEP must also include transition services including courses of study needed to assist the student in reaching those goals. (Wis. Stat. § 115.787[g]). In Wisconsin, the postsecondary goals, transition services, and course of study are documented together in a form called the postsecondary transition plan (PTP). The IEP team must review the PTP at least annually.
The criteria for receipt of a regular high school diploma are established by Wisconsin law and local school district policy. Graduation with a regular high school diploma ends a student’s eligibility to receive special education. When a student with a disability graduates with a regular high school diploma, it is considered a change of placement and the district is required to provide the student with prior written notice, and a summary of the student’s academic achievement and functional performance, including recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting the student’s postsecondary goals. (34 CFR § 300.305[e]).
The student who is the subject of this complaint is 18 years old and a senior in high school. The student’s parents are the student’s legal guardians. According to the student’s PTPs in effect during the period relevant to this complaint, the student’s postsecondary education goal is to attend a technical or community college to study manufacturing. The PTPs include appropriate, measurable postsecondary goals in employment. The student’s IEP team determined the student does not require a postsecondary goal in independent living skills. The PTPs also include transition services and a course of study to allow the student to reach the postsecondary goals. The student’s IEP team added an annual goal around the use of assistive technology to complete coursework in order to assist the student in making progress toward meeting transition goals at a meeting on August 27, 2020.
On October 19, 2020, the team revised the student’s IEP to be consistent with an agreement between the district, the student, and parents for the student to complete all coursework required for graduation with a regular high school diploma by the end of the first semester of the 2020-21 school year. The student was already working with representatives from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) regarding postsecondary education. The IEP team discussed that despite the student’s early graduation, the student would be able to participate in graduation ceremonies and any other school-sponsored activities related to graduation during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year. The IEP was sent to the parent on October 20, 2020, along with a Notice of Graduation form with an anticipated graduation date of January 28, 2021.
On January 29, 2021, district staff emailed the student’s parents, congratulating the student on completing coursework and advising them the student’s district email address would no longer be accessible in the near future. The email reminded the student and parents to return a school-issued Chromebook and told them to watch the district’s website for information about senior class activities, including the graduation ceremony. The district also sent the student and parents a Notice of Graduation and a Summary of Performance. That same day, the student’s parents responded to the staff person indicating they expected the student’s email would continue to be active, and they would continue to receive updates from the school about activities until the end of the school year. They also mentioned the student was interested in participating on the golf team and would require support to do so. On February 1, 2021, an administrative staff member responded to the parents reiterating the earlier email and additionally informing them that since the student was now a high school graduate, the student would not be able to participate in spring high school sports, according to district and Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) policies. The parents responded that day, objecting to the assumption that the student had completed all graduation requirements, arguing the district had not held an IEP team meeting to complete the process of reviewing goals. District staff responded that according to the agreed-upon conditions documented in the IEP dated October 19, 2020, the student would meet graduation requirements. Staff resent the Notice of Graduation from October and included a detailed Summary of Performance. The student’s parents subsequently filed this complaint.
Graduation with a regular high school diploma ends a student’s IDEA eligibility. The student completed coursework and met requirements to earn a regular high school diploma in accordance with district policy. The student, parents, and district staff all agreed the student was not taking any high school courses during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year. The student’s IEP team revised the student’s PTP as required. It included all required components, and the IEP team did not identify additional transition services for the school to provide during the second semester of the 2020-21 school year. The district facilitated the student’s connection with DVR in previous years. Given these circumstances, it was reasonable for district staff to believe the student and parents were ready for the student to complete coursework, earn a regular high school diploma, and end special education eligibility at the end of the first semester. The student’s parents expressed concern they did not receive a copy of the PTP with the IEP dated October 19, 2020, and noted it had a projected ending date of August 2021; however, clerical errors such as these are oversights and do not render the IEP inappropriate. The district properly developed the student’s IEP regarding transition services and graduation.
This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing. 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.
Barbara Van Haren, PhD
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support