IDEA Complaint Decision 03-045

On November 3, 2003, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Hamilton School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2003-2004 school year:

  • Provided instruction to a child with a disability in a manner inconsistent with the student's individualized education program (IEP);
  • Improperly changed the student's behavioral intervention plan without conducting an IEP team meeting; and
  • Restrained the child from leaving the room in a manner inconsistent with the IEP.

The parents' complaint primarily focuses on the one-on-one instruction provided in a smaller room within the special education classroom. The parents state that the increased use of the room was a change in the student's behavioral intervention plan and was inconsistent with the IEP.

On August 26, 2003, the IEP team met to review and develop the student's annual IEP for the 2003-2004 school year. The IEP listed several behavioral intervention strategies and stated that a behavior intervention plan (BIP) would be developed during the first month of the school year. The IEP also specified that "at times the [student] may benefit from one on one instruction provided in a distraction free environment," when "behavior prevents him from attending."

The school used a smaller room within a special education classroom in order to provide instruction in a distraction-free environment. The room has been used for teacher preparation, small group and one-on-one instruction. Students move in and out of the room throughout the day. In September, school staff provided instruction to the student in this room for only brief periods of time. School staff reported that the room had a calming effect on the student. In October, staff decided to increase the use of the room as a strategy in addressing the student's increasingly aggressive behavior. Extended use of the room occurred over a two-day period. On October 28, 2003, staff worked with the student in the room for not more than three hours. During this time, the student also left the room for bathroom breaks, lunch, recess and other activities. On October 29, 2003, the parent removed the student from the room before lunch, and expressed her concerns to the district over the use of the room.

The smaller room was not used as a seclusion time-out, and the student was not alone in the room. Rather, either an aide or a teacher was present with the student, and the room was used because there were fewer distractions than the larger classroom when providing instruction. The district has made several efforts to address the parents' concerns. Instead of using the smaller room, the school arranged another area in the classroom to provide the one-on-one instruction, has revised the IEP accordingly, and has confirmed in writing to the parents that the smaller room will not be used.

An IEP must be written so that all parties understand the services to be provided. In this case, the IEP lacks sufficient specificity to determine if the use of the smaller room was inconsistent with the IEP. The IEP does not identify the types of behaviors that would lead to one-on-one instruction in a distraction-free environment or the duration of such instruction. Furthermore, although there are behavioral strategies and supports listed in the IEP, the IEP stated that a BIP would be developed during the first month of the school year. It appears that the parents and school staff had different understandings as to what this would involve. The parents expected that a plan would be incorporated as part of the IEP. The staff, on the other hand, met internally to discuss and elaborate on the supports and strategies provided in the IEP. The IEP team has met frequently from November through January, and the team ultimately determined that a different placement was appropriate.

The IEP team must hold an IEP team meeting to address the lack of specificity in the student's IEP regarding the circumstances and duration of one-on-one instruction in a distraction-free environment and to specify behavioral supports or interventions as appropriate. As part of the IEP team, the district should include staff from the new placement. The district must submit the student's revised IEP to the department by March 1, 2004.

There is no evidence that the direct support provided was inconsistent with the student's IEP, as the parents contend. The student's IEP states that he is to have one support person in the morning, one in the afternoon, and a third person with a minimum of 20-30 minutes daily. Interviews confirmed that this support was provided. There is also no evidence that the student was restrained from leaving the small room, or improperly restrained by staff. The staff person who was with the student in the room on the day of concern to the parent stated that the student was calm and that the student did not attempt to leave that day. On another occasion, the staff person stated the student was accidentally scratched when he ran out of the large classroom, and she stopped him from running by holding on to his shoulder.

This concludes our review of this complaint.

//signed CST/SJP 1/30/04
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

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