IDEA Complaint Decision 01-050

On June 6, 2001, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Rhinelander School District. On July 19 the department set aside its investigation of the complaint pending completion of a due process hearing filed by complainant. On September 5 the hearing officer dismissed the due process hearing in response to the parents request to withdraw the hearing request. The issue is whether the district, during the 2000-2001 school year, failed properly to reevaluate the complainants child for a learning disability or an emotional disturbance. This is the departments decision regarding the complaint.

On March 27, 2001, the district sent a notice of reevaluation to complainant indicating that it intended to reevaluate his child. On April 3, the complainant participated in determining whether additional testing was needed and on the same day the district sent the complainant a notice and requested consent for additional testing. The complainant consented to the testing on May 2. On May 30, an IEP team, including the parent, the student, and required district participants, met to determine whether the child continued to be a child with a disability. An individual who accompanied the parent to the meeting also participated in the discussion. The IEP team concluded that the student is not a child with a disability and prepared an evaluation report of that determination. The report indicates that the student does not meet eligibility criteria for either an emotional disturbance or a learning disability.

The four district participants and the student each signed the additional documentation form indicating their agreement with the determination regarding specific learning disabilities, while the complainant signed noting his disagreement. The information from the additional tests and other evaluation materials portion of the report indicates that behavior evaluation scales completed by the parent and three of the students teachers found no significant areas of concern. The emotional disabilities teacher prepared a summary of findings supporting this determination which he made available to each IEP team participant at the meeting. The evaluation report documents the teams determination that the student does not meet the eligibility criteria for either a learning disability or an emotional disturbance using district eligibility criteria worksheets. Finally, the team prepared the required report of recommendations when a child is found not to be a child with a disability.

The complainant and the individual who attended the meeting with him, in letters submitted to the department, maintain that their participation during the meeting was not considered by the team. Based on the letters, on materials submitted by the district, and on interviews with the complainant and district personnel, the department concludes that the complainant and the individual attending the meeting with him did participate in discussions leading to the eligibility determination. The team attempted to reach consensus, but the parent disagreed with the eligibility determination reached by district staff. When consensus cannot be reached on an eligibility determination, the district must provide notice to the parent of the teams decision. On May 30, the district provided the parent with required prior written notice regarding the eligibility determination and the parent sought resolution of his disagreement by initiating an impartial due process hearing. The district conducted its reevaluation of the student consistent with required procedures and reached conclusions supported by pertinent documentation.

The complainant maintains that the individual who accompanied him to the meeting has knowledge regarding his child and that he intended for the individual to be an IEP team participant. The district staff who were team participants did not know in advance that the complainant wanted to have this person be a team participant. The district had informed its staff that when a parent brings someone to an IEP team meeting who is not included as a participant on the meeting notice, the individual should be permitted to participate in discussions, and that, because the district must appoint the participants for a meeting, the IEP team should determine whether the individual is a participant or an "observer." This was based in part on guidance given to the district by a DPI consultant before the final federal regulations were issued in March 1999. In this instance, the individual who accompanied the parent did participate in discussions relating to the childs continuing eligibility. However, at the point where team participants were asked to sign the form indicating their agreement or disagreement with the teams determination regarding specific learning disability eligibility, the team determined that the individual who accompanied the parent was an observer and she was not asked to sign the form.

The federal regulations issued in March 1999 indicate that at the discretion of the parent or the district, the IEP team is to include individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child. The regulations further clarify that the determination of whether the individual has knowledge or special expertise is to be made by the party inviting the individual. Although the IEP team permitted the person invited by the parent to the May 30 IEP team meeting to participate in discussions, it did not permit the parent to determine whether the individual had the knowledge or special expertise to be an IEP team participant. During its fall 2001 training for special education staff, the district provided training regarding participation in team meetings by individuals invited by parents to address this issue. The district will provide the department with documentation of the training which was provided.

This concludes our review of this complaint.

//signed CST 10/25/01
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

Dec/jrm

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