IDEA Complaint Decision 03-035

On August 29 and September 11, 2003, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Racine Unified School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district properly responded to a parent's, and to a teacher's, referral of a child for a special education evaluation in March 2003.

On March 4, 2003, a district counselor met with the child's mother, explained to her how to make a referral to determine eligibility for special education, accepted the mother's letter requesting an evaluation, and sent the letter to the director of special education. Although the issue statement in this complaint suggests that the counselor made a separate referral, in fact she only was forwarding the parent's request for an evaluation. A district special education supervisor instructed the counselor to complete a district referral form. On March 21, 2003, the counselor completed a referral for reevaluation form. On April 3, the counselor was instructed to document previous intervention strategies on an initial evaluation form. On April 16, the counselor completed a referral for initial evaluation.

The district's May 15, 2003, Notice of Receipt of Referral and Start of Initial Evaluation documents that the referral was received on April 17, 2003, and notes an evaluation closure date of July 16, 2003. On July 24, 2003, an individualized education program (IEP) team meeting was held to evaluate the child, develop an IEP and determine placement. In its response to the complaint, the district acknowledges that on March 4, 2003, the child's mother requested that her son be evaluated. A district may ensure that district staff properly complete required documentation related to the evaluation process. A district may not delay initiation of an evaluation pending receipt of such documentation, and it must ensure that evaluations and placement decisions are completed within 90 days following receipt of referrals. State law permits districts to seek an extension of the 90-day time limit, first from the parent and then from the department if the parent does not agree to an extension for child-specific reasons. The district did not complete the process within the required time nor seek an extension from the parent or from the department. The district was required to complete the process by June 2, 2003. Although the district did not meet this requirement, it completed the process and began providing special education to this child at the beginning of the 2003-2004 school year. No further child specific corrective action is required.

Each district must establish written procedures for accepting and processing referrals. The referral procedures must address referrals from school staff, parents, and others in the community. The district procedures can use early and ongoing collaboration and intervention in addition to the special education referral process. The department recognizes the value of these approaches. However, pre-referral interventions may not delay the district's accepting and processing of referrals. The district's procedures cannot require a referring person to obtain the permission, approval, or agreement of others before the district accepts a referral.

The district has been developing a data tracking system capable of maintaining information on time limit requirements, including for evaluations and reevaluations. The district is directed to analyze the result of this data, review and if necessary revise the district fall 2003 student referral process to ensure that evaluations and reevaluations are completed within the 90-day time limit or the district seeks an extension of the 90-day time limit, first from the parent and then from the department if the parent does not agree to an extension for child-specific reasons. The district must submit to the department by December 15, 2003, a written report of this analysis and any revisions to the district referral process. The department will work with the district to ensure that its referral forms and procedures are consistent with requirements and that appropriate district staff are properly advised of needed change.

This concludes our review of this complaint.

signed CST 11/7/03 Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

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