IDEA Complaint Decision 00-067

On December 7, 2000 (letter dated December 4, 2000), a complaint was filed with the Department of Public Instruction by XXXXX against the Rhinelander School District. This complaint alleges a violation of special education law regarding the implementation of programs for children with disabilities.

Pursuant to 34 CFR 300.660-662 of the regulations implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and 115.762(3)(g) and 115.90(1), Wis. Stats., the Department of Public Instruction investigated this complaint. In investigating a complaint, the department reviews a district's compliance with state and federal requirements. As part of this investigation, department staff reviewed relevant education records of the child, materials submitted by the complainant, documents submitted by the district in response to the complaint. Department staff spoke with the complainant and the director of student services.

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ISSUE:

Did the district, during the 2000-2001 school year, improperly change the placement of a child with a disability without conducting an IEP team meeting?

APPLICABLE STATUTES AND RULES:

Section 115.78, Wisconsin Statutes
Individualized education program team; timeline.

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(2) DUTIES OF TEAM. The individualized education program team shall do all of the following:

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(b) Develop an individualized education program for the child under 115.787.
(c) Determine the special education placement for the child under 115.79.

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Section 115.79, Wisconsin Statutes
Educational placements.

Each local educational agency shall ensure that all of the following occur:

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(2) An educational placement is provided to implement a child's individualized education program.

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Section 115.792, Wisconsin Statutes
Procedural safeguards.

(1) SAFEGUARDS ENSURED.

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(b) The local educational agency shall establish and maintain procedures to ensure that a child's parents are provided prior written notice whenever the local educational agency proposes to initiate or change, or refuses to initiate or change, the identification, evaluation or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child.

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34 CFR 300.552 Placements.

 

In determining the educational placement of a child with a disability, including a preschool child with a disability, each public agency shall ensure that--
(a) The placement decision--
(1) Is made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options;

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(b) The child's placement--
(1) Is determined at least annually;
(2) Is based on the child's IEP; and
(3) Is as close as possible to the child's home;
(c) Unless the IEP of a child with a disability requires some other arrangement, the child is educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled;

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ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIAL INTERPRETATIONS:

Department of Public Instruction, Learning Support/Equity and Advocacy, Information Update Bulletin 00.10, October 2000, Question 9.

9. If a pupil changes schools within a local educational agency for reasons unrelated to the pupil's IEP, must the agency conduct an IEP team meeting?

If a pupil changes schools because his or her residence changes to another attendance area within the local educational agency or if the pupil's program or school building closes, an IEP team meeting is not required if--

  • the pupil's new school building is the building that he or she would otherwise attend if not disabled; and
  • the pupil's IEP can be implemented as written in the new school building.

The local educational agency must notify the parents of its decision to implement the current IEP in the new school building. The agency may meet this obligation when a pupil changes schools by providing the parent a copy of the pupil's IEP and a notice of educational placement meeting the requirements of  115.792(2), Wis. Stats. If the parents are not satisfied with the new school, they may request an IEP team meeting to address the issue.

If the agency determines that the IEP cannot be implemented as written in the new school that the pupil would otherwise attend if not disabled, the agency must immediately conduct an IEP team meeting to determine the child's placement and to ensure there is no interruption in services.

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Department of Public Instruction, IDEA Complaint Decision 99-048 (October 25, 1999)

The IEP team must determine the special education placement for a child with a disability. The placement decision must be made based on the child's IEP. ¿[T]he IEP team must determine if the child's IEP can be implemented in the school the child would attend if the child were not disabled. The LEA must provide parents prior written notice whenever the LEA proposes to initiate or change, or refuses to initiate or change, the educational placement of a child with a disability.

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FINDINGS OF FACT:

The facts in this complaint are unique and relate to the district's application of its intra-district school choice policy. The child whose education is the subject of this complaint has been identified as having a speech/language impairment. The child resides in attendance area one. The child attended kindergarten at a school in attendance area two after the parents requested, and the district granted, a transfer under School Board Policy 5117. That policy allows parent requests for intra-district transfers. Pursuant to this policy, the parents of any student in the district may request transfer to any other school in the district. The requests are granted on a year-to-year basis.

On January 26, 2000, the parents requested to continue the transfer for the 2000-2001 school year. An annual IEP Team meeting was held on February 3, 2000, which the parent attended. The parents were provided a placement notice indicating that the child's IEP would continue to be implemented at the school in attendance area two. On August 17, 2000, the district administration responded that the parents' transfer request was being denied due to a lack of space. In a letter to school officials dated August 25, 2000, the parents requested a transfer for their child to an attendance area three school for the 2000-2001 school year. This request was approved by the district administration on August 25, 2000.

At the start of the 2000-2001 school year, the child attended first grade at the attendance area three school. On September 28, 2000, the parents talked with their child's first grade teacher about having their child remain in a kindergarten classroom for the 2000-2001 school year, as she was demonstrating significant deficiencies in both her social and academic progress. A meeting was held on November 1, 2000, to discuss the option of the student returning to kindergarten. District staff explained to the complainants that if their child was to return to kindergarten, she would have to transfer to another school since the attendance area three school only contained grades one through five.

In a letter to district officials dated November 2, 2000, the complainants requested a transfer for their daughter back to the attendance area two school to attend kindergarten. According to staff at the attendance area two school, the parents called the school on November 2, 2000, to inform them that their child was coming back to the school to be placed back in kindergarten. On that same day, the child's father came to the school and requested a kindergarten placement. The principal of the attendance area two school approved the transfer request at that time. The student began classes on November 6, 2000, and attended through November 8, 2000. A request to transfer their daughter back to the attendance area one, her neighborhood school, was received on November 9, 2000. This request asked that their daughter attend a first grade class at that school. The request was granted and the child has attended first grade at the attendance area one school. The district did not send a notice of a change in placement to the child's parents following each of the building changes following parental requests for transfer. Prior to each building change appropriate district staff did determine that the child's IEP, as developed by an IEP team, could be implemented without modification in the building to which transfer had been sought by the parents.

At the request of the parents, an IEP team meeting was held on December 14, 2000. Both parents attended this meeting. The IEP team determined that the child's placement would continue at the attendance area one school.

CONCLUSION:

A school district must appoint an IEP team to determine the special education placement for a child with a disability. The placement decision must be made based on the child's IEP. With respect to the school building or facility, the IEP team must determine if the child's IEP can be implemented in the school the child would attend if the child were not disabled. The LEA must provide parents prior written notice whenever the LEA proposes to initiate or change, or refuses to initiate or change, the educational placement of a child with a disability.

Under limited circumstances, a district may change the building where the child's program will be provided without holding an IEP team meeting, but only if the IEP previously developed by the team can be implemented in that building and only if the building is one that the child would attend if not disabled. Information Update Bulletin 00.10 describes two situations where this is permitted and the process which must be followed when making a change in building. If a change in the child's IEP is required in order for the child to begin receiving services in a building different from the one selected by the IEP team, only an IEP team may make the change in program and it then would select the building. Similarly, if the building is not the one the child would attend if not disabled, an IEP team must be convened to determined whether or not to make the change. Whenever a district changes the building in which a child's program will be implemented, it must inform the parents of the change.

The Rhinelander School District has a policy which permits any parent to request a transfer between buildings within the district. This transfer policy applies to all resident students. Consequently, under this policy when a student is permitted to transfer to a new building selected by the parent, the child will be attending the school he or she would attend if not disabled. It is permissible for the district to make such a building placement change without conducting an IEP team meeting so long as the district determines that the child's IEP can be implemented in the new building as written. Each time the child moved from one building to another in the district during the time period covered by this complaint, the move was in response to a written parent request. For each of the moves requested by the parents for their child, the district did determine that the child's IEP could be implemented in the building selected by the parents under the intra-district transfer policy. The district notified the parents of the changes in building by sending transfer approval, or denial, letters. The district correctly implemented the law related to the issue in this complaint.

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This concludes our investigation of this complaint, and we are closing this complaint investigation. This letter is not intended, and should not be construed, to cover any other issues regarding compliance with the IDEA or Chapter 115, Wisconsin Statutes, which may exist and which are not specifically discussed herein. Under the Wisconsin public records law, 19.31-19.39, Wisconsin Statutes, it may be necessary to release this document and related correspondence and records upon request.

signed MJT
2/7/01
__________________________________________
Mike J. Thompson, Assistant Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

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For questions about this information, contact Patricia Williams (608) 267-3720