On November 10, 2021 (form dated November 8, 2021), the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from #### (complainants) against the #### (district). This is the department’s decision regarding the complaint. The issue identified is whether the district, beginning November 10, 2020, properly developed the educational placement of a student with a disability.
School districts must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each student with a disability. 34 CFR § 300.101(a). In determining the educational placement of a student with a disability, each public agency must ensure that the placement decision is made by the IEP team, which includes the parents. The student’s placement must be determined at least annually, must be based on the student’s IEP, and must be as close as possible to the student’s home. Unless the IEP of a student with a disability requires some other arrangement, the student must be educated in the school they would attend if they did not have a disability. In selecting the least restrictive environment, the IEP team must consider any potential harmful effect on the student or on the quality of services that they need; and the student is not removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum. 34 CFR § 300.116
The student who is the subject of this complaint has a history of hospitalizations and outpatient treatment for anxiety and depression. During the 2020-21 school year, the student was in a partial hospitalization care program for four months. Due to COVID-19, the program was delivered virtually to the student for six hours a day. The student was discharged to outpatient therapy in February 2021 after making limited progress and referred to a therapeutic boarding school to provide increased structure to meet goals related to body image, depression, coping, and anxiety.
The discharge report notes the student suffers from social anxiety disorder (social phobia), generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, and social exclusion or rejection. Also, in February 2021, the parents contacted the school district to discuss reentry into the school system with assistance from their advocate. The district initiated a special education evaluation.
On April 27, 2021, an IEP team meeting was held for the purpose of determining eligibility for special education, and the student was found to meet eligibility criteria in the disability categories of emotional behavioral disability and other health impairment. The team documented the student’s needs in the area of work completion and academic engagement; social-emotional functioning; classroom performance based on past history; and adaptive behavior, including overall coping skills, avoiding people/crowds, and not completing activities of daily living skills (ADLs) at home. The IEP team also considered and rejected the disability categories of speech/language impairment and educational autism. The student does not have a history of language delays, and although the student avoids interacting with people and events, this is not caused by issues with language. The IEP team determined the student requires specially designed instruction in behavior skills to work on coping strategies to apply when upset or frustrated and study skills. The team determined the student would have access to the special education resource room when anxious or frustrated.
On May 18, 2021, the IEP team met and determined the student’s placement would be at the student’s district high school in their attendance area. The IEP team believed this placement would meet the student’s needs and be the least restrictive environment for the student. In making this decision, the IEP team considered the concerns of the parent and student. Given their concerns about the student’s social and emotional functioning, the parents believed the appropriate placement for the student was a residential treatment center that could provide a highly structured schedule that included multiple therapy sessions throughout the day and would address the student’s ADL skills. The student stated, “I want to be in school. It’s healthy for me;” however, the student also expressed feeling anxious about going to school and being in close physical contact with others. Results from the partial hospitalization care program, a neuropsychological assessment, and other medical information were considered during the meeting. The parents and their advocate presented a proposal for the team to consider extended school year services (ESY) or a residential treatment center placement. The district requested more information from the parents to substantiate a restrictive placement and agreed to reconvene on June 7, 2021, to further consider these options.
At the June 7, 2021, IEP team meeting, the parents stated they believe the student requires a temporary therapeutic setting to help reintegrate the student before returning to the school environment. The parents specified ten concerns, including that the student flees situations to avoid conflict or interaction with people, lacks concern for personal hygiene, acts out and becomes upset when met with unexpected change, has sensory sensitivity to touch, smells, and noises, and has a history of self-injury and suicidal ideation. The parents shared additional materials, but the district did not find the information provided “concrete, measurable data, and documentation to substantiate any of the [parents’] ten areas of concern.” The district felt confident they had worked with other students with similar needs, and their staff members have the experience and expertise required. The team identified possible supports, strategies, and interventions that could be provided in the school environment to address the parents’ concerns. The IEP team determined the student had disability-related needs that include engaging in activities that require socializing or working with peers due to hypersensitivity to auditory and tactile input, focusing/attending during instruction, engaging and interacting with peers, and in large groups, and organizational skills including time management. The IEP team identified additional goals and services to address the disability-related needs, such as support with social interactions, supported core academic classes to monitor behavior, and adult support with transition to class. The IEP team determined the student is to be in the general education environment the majority of the day and be provided numerous supplementary aids and services. The student’s IEP calls for the student to be in the special education classroom for 15 minutes per day for specially designed instruction on coping strategies to apply when the student is upset, frustrated, or shutting down, and 10 minutes daily of specially designed instruction in study skills. The IEP also includes quarterly consults by the occupational therapist with staff regarding the student’s sensory needs and accommodations.
During the evaluation, the district noted the student demonstrated the ability to appropriately interact with staff and to do grade-level coursework. The IEP team concluded the student could make progress toward IEP goals outside of a residential treatment facility. The IEP team also considered a self-contained environment at the high school but determined the student would benefit from being in the general education environment with supplementary aids and services, in addition to access to a special education resource room for behavior intervention, specially designed instruction, and occupational therapy. This combination would allow the student to have natural access to nondisabled peers while being supported by special education services. The IEP team agreed to review and revise the student’s IEP if there is an indication additional support or a more restrictive environment is warranted after the student returns to school. Finally, the IEP team considered the parent’s request for extended school year services in the summer (ESY). The district explained the purpose of ESY is to minimize regression during breaks in school services, and there was no indication the student’s baseline levels of performance would regress during the upcoming summer break. In addition, the district provides multiple high school orientation opportunities for students during the summer and offered to provide additional opportunities specifically for the student. The IEP team considered conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a behavior intervention plan but felt it would be most appropriate to wait to gather information after the student returned to school. Documentation of these decisions is included in the student’s IEP.
The district then reached out to the parent and student during the summer with opportunities to begin to reorient into the school setting. The student did not participate in these opportunities. In September 2021, the district entered into mediation with the parents, and a plan was developed for the student to return to school a short time each day to reintegrate into the school setting. The student met one-on-one with a special education teacher at school. The student demonstrated tolerance for the school environment and the ability to adapt to change. Additionally, the student did not respond to anticipated triggers. The district continued mediation with the parents and expanded the plan for the student to attend school a longer amount of time and begin reintegration with peers; however, parents reported that the student refused to return to school after learning of the plan. The district met again with the parents and advocate and was told the student is not well enough to attend school and is receiving therapy from an outside provider. The district attempted to schedule an IEP team meeting to address these new concerns, but the parents declined to meet.
The district properly developed the educational placement of a student with a disability. In determining the educational placement of the student, the IEP team considered the concerns of the parents, medical information shared by the parents, statements made by the student, as well as a trial period of the student in the school environment and determined the student does not need a therapeutic placement at this time in order to receive a free appropriate public education. This decision was based on an IEP developed by the team with goals and special education services to address the student’s disability-related needs. In determining the least restrictive environment for the student at the high school the student would attend if they did not have a disability, the IEP team considered any potential harmful effect on the student this placement may have and believe this environment will allow the student opportunity to return to a more typical schedule and reestablish natural relationships with peers in a school setting. The district believes they can provide the support and services needed for the student to succeed. The district has agreed to closely monitor the student’s progress when the student returns to school, conduct an FBA and develop a BIP, and reconvene the IEP team if there is any indication the IEP is not meeting the student’s disability-related needs.
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.