IDEA Complaint Decision 09-053

On July 23, 2009, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the School District of Elmbrook. This is the department’s decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2008-2009 school year:

  • properly responded to parental request for a special education evaluation;
  • properly applied eligibility criteria for other health impairment (OHI) and speech or language impairment during an evaluation of a child to determine a need for special education services; and
  • properly considered private evaluations provided by the child’s parents in determining a child’s eligibility for special education services.

Referrals for special education evaluations must be in writing, include the name of the child, and the reasons the person making the referral believes the student is a student with a disability. Districts are responsible for informing parents about the district’s referral and evaluation procedures. In November 2008, the parents met with district staff and expressed a desire to refer the child for special education services. In December 2008, the parents exchanged phone calls and left messages with a different staff member to request an evaluation for the student. District staff did not explain the district’s referral procedures, including the requirement that referrals must be in writing. On January 9, 2009, the district began the paperwork to process the referral for the student.

Although district staff ultimately initiated a referral for the student, the district failed to inform the parent about the district’s referral procedures when the parent first contacted the district about a special education evaluation. Within 30 days, the district must convene an individualized education program (IEP) team meeting for the student to consider whether additional services are necessary as a result of this failure and submit the resulting paperwork to the department. Within 30 days, the district must submit proposed corrective action to ensure all staff appropriately inform parents about the district’s referral and evaluation procedures.

On April 24, 2009, the district conducted an IEP team meeting to consider the areas of speech or language impairment, emotional behavioral disability, specific learning disability, and OHI. The team determined the student was eligible for special education in the areas of speech or language impairment and emotional behavioral disability. There was proper documentation establishing eligibility. The district properly applied the eligibility criteria for a speech or language impairment during an evaluation of a child to determine a need for special education services.

In evaluating each child with a disability, the evaluation must be sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs. During the April 2009 IEP team meeting, there was considerable disagreement over whether the student had additional needs as a result of OHI. The IEP team agreed the student has a chronic health condition, resulting in limited alertness, strength or vitality, but could not agree as to whether the student’s education performance was adversely affected as a result. On May 11, the district had an additional IEP meeting to develop the student’s IEP and determine placement. The IEP team could not reach an agreement as to whether there was additional special education and related services needs because of OHI, and, therefore, no decision was made, and no additional services were provided. The IEP team should work toward consensus, but consensus is not always possible. If the team cannot reach consensus, the school district has the ultimate responsibility to ensure the child receives free appropriate public education, a decision is made, the decision is properly documented, and the parents receive notice of the decision. Within 30 days, the district must conduct an IEP team meeting to determine whether the child has additional needs as a result of OHI, and, if so, to revise the IEP accordingly. The district must submit documentation to the department upon completion of this meeting.

Once the district receives parental consent for evaluation, it has up to 60 calendar days to determine eligibility. Once the child is found eligible for special education and related services, the district must develop an IEP and determine placement within 30 calendar days. The parent signed consent for evaluation on February 23, 2009. The student was found eligible for special education on April 24. On May 27, the team developed an IEP and determined placement. The development of the IEP and placement determination took place 33 calendar days after the student was determined eligible for special education, which exceeds the required timelines. Within 30 days, the district must submit a proposed corrective action to ensure all staff understand and apply the required timelines related to eligibility determinations, IEP development, and placement determinations.

In determining the student’s eligibility for special education, the IEP team must consider information about the student provided by the parents. On January 29, 2009, the parents provided two letters from private service providers who worked with the student. The parents and the district distributed this information to IEP team members and the contents of the letters were discussed at IEP team meetings on April 24 and May 11 to determine eligibility. Information from the letters was used to determine elements of the student’s evaluation for special education. The district properly considered private evaluations provided by the child’s parents in determining the child’s eligibility for special education services.

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 CST 9/18/09
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

Dec/cms

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