On April 12, 2017, the Department of Public Instruction (department) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the XXXXX School District. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2016-17 school year:
- properly provided the parent of two students with disabilities copies of their revised individualized education programs (IEPs) prior to their implementation;
- properly implemented the IEPs of two students with disabilities;
- properly responded to the parent’s request to revise the two students’ IEPs;
- properly developed measurable annual goals in the two students’ IEPs,
- properly ensured special education paraprofessionals were informed of their duties and worked under the direct supervision of a licensed teacher;
- provided special education services utilizing properly licensed staff; and
- improperly shortened the school day of a student with a disability.
Properly provided the parent of two students with disabilities copies of their revised individualized education programs (IEPs) prior to their implementation
A parent must receive written notice, including a copy of the student’s IEP, a reasonable time prior to its implementation. The district’s practice is to mail or send a copy of the finalized IEPs home with the student. The district estimates the date they believe the parent will receive written notice and a finalized copy of IEP on the placement page.
This complaint involves two students. The parent states that she did not receive final copies of either student’s IEP prior to implementation. The first student, Student A, had an annual IEP meeting on May 9, 2016. The placement page stated the parent received a copy of the IEP on May 19, and it was implemented on May 20. Student B’s annual IEP meeting took place on October 24, 2016. The placement page stated the parent received a copy of IEP on November 9, however, the IEP was implemented on October 30. District staff acknowledge the parent may not have received written notice and copies of the IEPs prior to their implementation. The district did not ensure the parent received written notice and copies of the finalized IEPs prior to their implementation.
Properly implemented the IEPs of two students with disabilities
At the beginning of each school year, each local education agency (LEA) must have in effect, for each student with a disability an IEP, and special education and related services must be made available to the student in accordance with the student’s IEP. The IEP must be written in a way that clearly states the amount, frequency and location for each service. A clear description clarifies the extent, if any, to which the student will not participate with students without disabilities in general education environment. The parent states that Student A’s and Student B’s IEPs were not properly implemented because both students were removed from the general education environment in excess of what was provided for in their IEPs.
Student A’s IEP said they would be removed from the general education environment for special education services 350 minutes per week and one related service for 60 minutes per week. Student A’s IEP also included other related services with the location listed as the school building. Listing the location as the entire school building does not clearly describe the removal from the general education environment. Student B’s IEP, however, did clearly describe the location of services.
The extent that both students were removed from the general education environment varied throughout the school year based on therapist schedules and activities in the general education environment, and removals were not always consistent with what was required by the IEPs. The district did not properly describe the extent that student A would be removed from the general education environment, and did not implement the IEPs of two students with disabilities with regard to location of services.
Properly responded to the parent’s request to revise the two students’ IEPs
The IEP team must meet to review the student’s IEP periodically, but not less than once per year. A parent may request an IEP team meeting at any time, and a district should grant any reasonable request. If the district denies the parent’s request for an IEP team meeting, the district must provide the parent with a notice of refusal, including an explanation of why the agency has determined that conducting the meeting is not necessary. Prior written notice must be provided whenever a district refuses to change the educational placement of the student. The parent states that she requested IEP team meetings to revise each student’s IEP in a number of areas, including to increase the amount of time the students’ spent with non-disabled peers in the general education environment.
District staff report they met with the parent on a number of occasions throughout the school year to address many concerns related to both students. However, the district characterizes these meetings as informal and do not consider them IEP team meetings. While some of the subject matter of the meetings was outside the scope of IEP requirements, when the parent requested IEP team meetings and raised concerns about the educational placements of the students, the district should have convened IEP team meetings to discuss the concerns and revise the IEPs if necessary, or provide written notice refusing the request. The district did not properly respond to a parent’s request for IEP team meetings to revise two students’ IEPs.
Properly developed measurable annual goals in the two students’ IEPs
An IEP is a written statement for each student with a disability that includes a statement of measurable annual goals designed to meet the student’s needs that result from the student’s disability. Annual goals must be measurable, include a level of attainment, and address the student’s needs that result from the student’s disability to enable the student to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. Goals must include benchmarks or short-term objectives when the students is participating in the alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards. When a goal includes benchmarks or short-term objectives, if at all possible, the annual goals should include a baseline and level of attainment. In the rare occasion when this is not possible, a separate baseline and level of attainment is not required if each benchmark or short-term objective is directly related to the goal and each benchmark or short-term objective includes a baseline and level of attainment.
Both students participate in the Dynamic Learning Maps Assessment (DLM), which is Wisconsin’s alternate assessment. On May 9, the IEP team met and developed Student A’s annual IEP. The IEP team developed three goals for the student, and one of the goals is not measurable and does not include a level of attainment. The goal’s benchmarks also do not include levels of attainment. On October 24, the IEP team met and developed Student B’s annual IEP. All of the goals and benchmarks included in Student B’s IEP are measurable and include a level of attainment. The district did not properly develop one of the annual goals in Student A’s May 9, 2016, IEP.
Properly ensured special education paraprofessionals were informed of their duties and worked under the direct supervision of a licensed teacher
The district must inform all staff working with the student of their specific responsibilities related to implementing the student’s IEP. The district must ensure professional teaching responsibilities are carried out by a special education teacher who is licensed by the department. A special education aide’s role is limited to working under the direct supervision of a licensed teacher to support the lesson plans of the teacher, provide technical assistance to the teacher, and help with classroom control or management. The parent states the paraprofessionals had not seen the students’ IEPs’, were not aware of their duties, and the students’ received their specially designed instruction in mathematics from special education aides only.
District staff informed the paraprofessionals of their specific IEP duties through written notes and verbal instructions, and the students’ complete IEPs’ were available for the paraprofessionals to review. The district is not required to provide each paraprofessional with their own photo copy of the IEP. The special education teacher designed the instruction in math, which was supported by the paraprofessional. The teacher provided instruction and had regular contact with the students. The teacher also had regular contact with the paraprofessional to ensure that lesson plans were properly supported and teaching responsibilities remained with the teacher. The district properly ensured special education paraprofessionals were informed of their duties and worked under the direct supervision of a licensed teacher.
Provided special education services utilizing properly licensed staff
Each school board must ensure every teacher, aide, or other professional staff holds a valid certificate, license, or permit issued by the department for the position for which the individual is employed. Special education services must be provided by properly licensed staff.
The district’s practice is to check the license status of each employee. In August 2016, district staff ensured all staff were properly licensed. During the 2016-17 school year, there was a two and a half week lapse in the paraprofessional’s license coverage due to issues unrelated to teaching. When the district became aware of the lapse, it removed the paraprofessional from contact with students until it was reinstated. The district did not provide special services utilizing a properly licensed paraprofessional for approximately one week before they received notice. Due to the unique circumstances of this case, no further corrective action is required.
Improperly shortened the school day of a student with a disability
A school district may not reduce a student’s instructional time by starting the student’s school day later or releasing the student earlier than nondisabled peers in order to accommodate staff schedules. The IEP team may shorten a school day only when the team determines it is required to address the student’s unique disability-related needs.
The district experienced a staffing change in January 2017. From early January through the end of April, the district staff member assigned to prepare Student A for transportation home was released from work approximately 10 minutes before the last school bell. In order to prepare the student and ensure she was on the bus at the end of the day prior to the staff member leaving, the student was removed from the classroom approximately 20 minutes before the end of the instructional day. The district improperly shortened the school day of a student with a disability.
Within 30 days of the date of this decision, the district must develop a corrective action plan to ensure parents are provided written notice and a final copy of the IEP prior to implementation, IEP’s are written to ensure the extent of removal from the general education environment is clearly described and that they are implemented, the district properly responds to a parent’s request to revise an IEP, IEP goals are measureable and include a level of attainment, and the district does not improperly shorten the school day for a student. The district must also convene an IEP team meeting for Student A to determine whether compensatory services are required due to the reduction of the instructional day from approximately January-April 2017, and send documentation to the department within 10 days after the meeting.
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.
//signed by JH 6/9/17
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support