IDEA Complaint Decision 02-001

On January 2, 2002, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Mequon-Thiensville School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, during the 2001-2002 school year, failed to:

  • evaluate their child for a disability in a timely manner following the parents' request;
  • properly discipline their child when it had knowledge that the child is a child with a disability; and
  • safeguard the confidentiality of the student's education records by releasing personally identifiable information to other students and to a local newspaper.

The child who is the subject of this complaint was suspected of writing a threat against the school's principal. On November 12, 2001, during the district's investigation in that matter, district personnel found a knife in the student's backpack at school. The student was immediately suspended from school and a notice of an expulsion hearing, scheduled for November 28, 2001, was sent to the parents. On November 26, 2001, the district received a referral for special education from the complainants. On November 27, 2001, the child's parents withdrew him from school.

A child who has not been determined to be eligible for special education and who has engaged in behavior that violates school rules, may be afforded certain protections under federal and state laws if there is a basis of knowledge that the child is a child with a disability. A district would have knowledge that a child is a child with a disability if: the parent of the child has expressed concern in writing that the child is in need of special education; the behavior or performance of the child demonstrates the need for these services; the parent of the child requested an evaluation for special education; the teacher of the child, or other district personnel, has expressed concern regarding the child's behavior or performance to the director of special education.

The complainants contend that the district had an obligation to evaluate their child because the district had knowledge that their child was a child with a disability. In documents received from the district and in telephone conversations, the district maintains that no district staff had ever considered a special education referral for this student. Staff were aware that the child had been diagnosed as ADHD, but this knowledge does not, in itself, require a district to conduct an evaluation for special education. The complainants maintain that they had requested a special education evaluation on March 28, 2001. After reviewing documentation received from the complainants and the district, the department concluded that the request was for the district to complete ADHD behavior checklists and not a referral for a special education evaluation.

The district did receive a referral for a special education evaluation on November 26, 2001. The district received the parents' consent for evaluation on December 4, 2001. On December 14, 2001, an invitation to an IEP team meeting, scheduled for January 10, 2002, was sent to the parents. On January 8, 2002, the parents cancelled the meeting. The next earliest time both parties could meet was January 29, 2002. The January 29, 2002, IEP team determined that the student was not a child with a disability. The district met its obligation in regard to evaluating a child in a timely manner.

A district has an obligation to conduct an evaluation once a parent requests an IEP team evaluation during a period of disciplinary removal. Until the evaluation is completed, the child remains in the placement determined by school officials, which can include suspension or expulsion without educational services. In this case, the district met its obligation to conduct a special education evaluation, as noted above, and met the requirements for disciplining a child during the evaluation period. Since the IEP team determined that the child was not a child with a disability, the district had no obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education to the child during the expulsion period.

The department found no evidence that the district disclosed personally identifiable information regarding this student to other students or the newspaper. Information reported in the newspaper was obtained from the police report and a reporter's interview with the police officer. The police officer's information was obtained as a result of his investigation. The complainants believed the school guidance counselor shared confidential information by discussing this case with other students. The district maintains that the counselor did not share information from a student record; but to dispel rumors that were causing fear among the students, he shared very general information without revealing any personally identifiable information.

This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.

Sincerely,

//signed CST 3/4/02
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy

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