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IDEA Complaint Decision 21-050

On November 15, 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 regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, beginning November 15, 2020, properly addressed incidents of alleged bullying involving a student with a disability.

Under Wisconsin law, each school board must adopt a policy prohibiting bullying by students in the school district. When a school learns of an allegation of bullying involving a student with a disability, it must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate in accordance with board policy. If the school’s investigation reveals the bullying was sufficiently serious to interfere with or limit the ability of a student with a disability to benefit from their educational program, the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects. As part of its appropriate response to bullying, the district should convene the individualized education program (IEP) team to determine whether, as a result of the effects of the bullying, the student’s needs have changed such that the IEP is no longer designed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE). (OSEP Dear Colleague Letter on Bullying, August 20, 2013; 34 CFR § 300.323; Wis. Stat. §§ 118.46, 115.787 and 115.78[2][c]).

The district has adopted a policy prohibiting bullying, which was most recently revised on November 1, 2021. Between November 8-11, 2021, the student’s parent made five reports of alleged bullying that occurred that month. Multiple district staff conducted investigations of each incident and determined that one was bullying. Several changes were made in response to the concerns raised by the parent, including counseling individual students, providing additional safety instructions, informing all the student’s teachers about potential student conflicts, allowing the student to opt-out of partnering with any students they choose, increased supervision of the student and other students, and disciplinary action.

The district then convened the IEP team to discuss the pattern of reports of mistreatment and bullying and the impact on the student’s education on November 16, 2021. The team discussed the student’s current educational programming and discussed the need to increase support for the student to provide for early intervention in social encounters to support the student and avoid mistreatment and bullying. The IEP was updated to include counseling services, additional support and supervision in classes where the issues were most frequently occurring, and an educational component to train staff on the social and academic impact of the student’s disability. The revised IEP was implemented on November 22, 2021.

On December 2 and 3, 2021, the student’s parent informed district staff of two additional allegations of bullying. Multiple district staff investigated these allegations and substantiated one of these as bullying. The district responded to these additional incidents with further counseling and discipline of individual students, a school-wide lesson on appropriate treatment and interactions with others, ensuring the student is not paired with the student they have had conflicts with, and further supervision. IEP revisions had been implemented only a few days prior to these incidents, and the substantiated allegation occurred in a class where supervision had just been increased; therefore, the district did not reconvene the IEP Team to discuss the impacts of the bullying immediately after this incident. During January, district staff will conduct an additional meeting to review the IEP to discuss the impact of the November 16, 2021, supports and ensure that the student’s programming allows them to receive FAPE and will revise the IEP as necessary. The district properly responded to alleged incidents of bullying of a student with disabilities.

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.

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