On December 13, 2022, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from #### (parent) against the #### School District (district). This is the department's decision regarding the complaint. The issue is whether the district properly responded to a parent's request for a special education evaluation in May 2022.
Upon receipt of a referral for a special education evaluation, the school district must appoint an individualized education program (IEP) team. Wis. Stat § 115.78(1m). The IEP team must include the parents of the student, at least one regular education teacher of the student, at least one special education teacher of the student, and a representative of the local educational agency (LEA). 34 CFR §300.321(a). Within 15 business days of receipt of the referral, the members of the IEP team must review existing data to determine whether additional assessments are needed and send to the student's parents a request for consent to conduct the assessments. Wis. Stat. § 115.777(3)(e). The student's IEP team must meet to conduct the evaluation within 60 days of receiving written parental consent to conduct assessments. 34 CFR § 300.301(c). The school district must permit the parent to inspect and review records related to the evaluation without delay and prior to the IEP team meeting. 34 CFR § 300.613(a). Prior to the IEP team meeting, the school district must provide the parent with a notice indicating the purpose, time, and location of the meeting and who will be in attendance. 34 CFR § 300.322(b)(i). In conducting the evaluation, the district must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to gather relevant information about the student, including information provided by the parent to assist in determining whether the student has one or more impairments and is in need of specially designed instruction. 34 CFR § 300.304(b).
The student was enrolled in the first grade at one of the district's elementary schools for the 2021-22 school year. The parent enrolled the student in a private school for the 2022-23 school year. On May 31, 2022, a private school representative contacted the district via email requesting a special education evaluation of the student. The same day the district contacted the student's parent via email and requested additional information regarding the referral. The student's parent emailed the additional information on June 2, 2022. The parent reported the student was struggling socially and emotionally at school and home and had communication and sensory needs. The parent also reported the student had medical diagnoses of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The district acknowledged receipt of the referral via a telephone call to the parent on July 13, 2022, and provided written notice of the start of the evaluation on July 23, 2022. Between July 26, 2022, and August 1, 2022, the IEP team members reviewed existing information and data about the student and provided input on the need for additional assessments. On July 26, 2022, the district provided the parent a notice of the need to conduct additional assessments in the areas of adaptive behavior, behavior/social skills, academics, speech/language, sensory/motor, and a medical record review. The district received the parent's written consent for the additional assessments on August 1, 2022. The district proceeded to conduct the identified assessments.
The student's IEP team met at 11:00 a.m. on October 26, 2022, to conduct the evaluation. Prior to the IEP team meeting, the parent requested a copy of the evaluation report, which district staff provided on October 22, 2022. Just before the beginning of the meeting on October 26, 2022, the district discovered the staff member assigned to act as the LEA representative was unable to attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict. The district appointed a new LEA representative and sent the parent an amended IEP meeting invitation via email at 10:30 a.m. and notified the parent verbally of the change at the beginning of the IEP team meeting. At the meeting, the team reviewed information from existing data, including information provided by the student's parent and teachers and from previous assessments. The team also reviewed the information obtained from the additional assessments the IEP team conducted. The meeting ran long, and the IEP team agreed to pause and reconvene at a later date to complete the evaluation. The student's IEP team met again on November 30, 2022, to continue the evaluation process. The team reviewed the remaining evaluation data and proceeded to consider the student's eligibility under the criteria for speech and language impairment, other health impairment, and autism. The team determined the student did not meet the criteria to be considered a student with a disability.
The complainant asserted the district did not comply with timelines for completing the evaluation. The district failed to properly respond to the parent's request for a special education evaluation by exceeding the 15-business day timeline following its receipt of the referral to complete the review of existing data and seek the parent's consent for assessments. The district also exceeded the 60-calendar day timeline to complete the evaluation after receiving the parent's written consent to conduct the assessments.
The complainant raised concerns that do not align with federal or state special education law requirements. These include concerns the district failed to provide a 10-day notice of an IEP team meeting and failed to provide evaluation reports three days prior to the evaluation meeting. Neither federal nor state special education law requires districts to provide parents notice ten days prior to an IEP team meeting or evaluation reports within three days of an evaluation meeting. The district's IEP team meeting notices and provision of the evaluation report were provided timely.
The complainant also alleged the district failed to use appropriate IEP team meeting excusal procedures for the originally assigned LEA representative. However, the district assigned a different LEA representative to participate in the IEP team meeting and provided the parent sufficient notice of the change by providing an amended written invitation to the parent prior to the meeting and a verbal notice at the meeting provided.
The complainant asserts that school staff improperly shared student-specific information with the student's childcare provider when conducting an observation at the student's childcare facility. The evidence reviewed by the department indicates the conversation between school staff and the student's childcare provider during the observation was limited to the observer's impressions of the student. Given that the parent knew about, provided written consent for, and assisted in arranging the observation at the childcare facility, the department cannot conclude that the incidental conversation between staff was an inappropriate sharing of student confidential information.
Finally, the complainant asserts that the district predetermined the student's ineligibility for special education. During interviews with the department's investigator, district staff demonstrated that they had not predetermined the student's eligibility prior to the IEP meetings in October and November. Evidence shows the IEP team considered all information in making the determination during the meeting, including information provided by the student's parents, and considered all appropriate disability areas in conducting the evaluation. The data reviewed by the IEP team, as documented in the final evaluation report, forms a basis on which the IEP team could reasonably conclude that the student is not a student with a disability in need of specially designed instruction under federal or state special education law.
Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district shall submit to the department a corrective action plan outlining the steps it will take to ensure evaluations for special education eligibility are completed within the relevant timelines.
This concludes our review of this complaint. All identified noncompliance must be corrected within one year of the date of this decision. This decision is final for the IDEA State Complaint process. These issues may be addressed through other dispute resolution processes, including mediation and due process hearings. For more information, visit the department's website at http://dpi.wi.gov/sped/dispute-resolution.