IDEA Complaint Decision 02-004

On January 22, 2002, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Union Grove J1 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 implement provisions in the individualized education program (IEP) for a child with a disability requiring foreshadowing of changes in routine, permitting the student to call his parent when upset, permitting the student to dictate writing assignments longer than one paragraph, and indicating the amount of time the student would be educated with students who do not have disabilities; and
  • Revised the child's IEP by adding a behavior plan without conducting an IEP team meeting.

The student's IEP indicates that his behavior impedes his learning or the learning of other students. A behavior plan and a sensory diet are attached to, and specifically referenced in, the IEP. The behavior plan specifies that the student is to be permitted to telephone his parent upon request. The IEP also lists supplementary aids and services to be provided to the student, including that staff are to foreshadow changes in routine. This service is to be provided in regular and special education settings. The IEP includes a two-page description of general characteristics and behaviors for the student's disability and a one-page listing of "helpful hints" describing the student's general learning styles and techniques for working with him.

The issues in the complaint regarding foreshadowing of changes in routine and permitting the student to call his parent on request stem from events which occurred in early November. The student's special education teacher had been considering rearranging her classroom since becoming a teacher in the district at the beginning of the year. Following parent-teacher conferences one evening in early November, the teacher decided to make seating arrangement and other changes to the room. The student, pursuant to his IEP, is assisted by a teaching aide throughout the day. The aide also greets the student each day on his arrival at school. The aide who supports him this year also worked with him all of last year and has become familiar with his disability and the need to foreshadow changes in routine. The aide and the student's regular and special education teachers all had received training at the beginning of the year from district staff familiar with his disability regarding how his disability affects him, including that changes can be challenging for him.

When the aide arrived at school the morning following the parent-teacher conferences, she went to the special education classroom and discovered the change in furniture arrangement, and realized the change might be unsettling to the student. When she greeted him at the door for the day, she began to explain to him that the room had been changed. In an attempt to prepare him for potential change, the aide, the student and his special education teacher several weeks before had discussed the possibility that the room would be rearranged. He had been offered the chance to make suggestions about how to rearrange the room and he did make suggestions.

Changes made this school year to the student's other classrooms had not significantly affected him, but soon after entering the special education classroom with his aide it became apparent the changes made to the room upset him. The room rearrangement troubled the student that day and continued into the next school day, a Monday. The department concludes that the district implemented this provision of the student's IEP when staff discussed the changes with him in advance, allowed him to make recommendations about the changes to the special education classroom, and when the aide forewarned him of the change when she first discovered it after arriving at school. Five IEP team meetings, averaging one and one half hours in length, have been held since January and another currently is scheduled. The team has worked to further clarify the IEP regarding foreshadowing of changes in the student's environment.

The student was more agitated the school day following the one when he discovered the room rearrangement. A dispute developed between the student and another special education teacher who also uses the room. The teacher directed the student to stop arguing and to respond only with "yes" or "no." The issue in the parent's letter of complaint related to this exchange is that the student was not permitted to call home, as the IEP permits him to ask to do when he becomes upset. Staff maintain that the student did not ask to call home.

In response to the complaint, the district acknowledges that due to his language processing deficits, the student may have taken the directions not to argue and to say only yes or no literally as a direction not to say anything else, keeping him from asking to call home. The district maintains that staff never have denied the student permission to call home when he has asked. Staff also maintain that sometimes when he is upset they have asked him whether he wants to call home. Staff indicate that when they have asked him if he'd like to call home, most typically he has said he does not want to call his parent. Finally the district maintains that within a very brief period the dispute between the teacher and student appeared resolved and the student began working with his own teacher and aide and did not ask to call home. The department concludes that the district did not refuse to permit the student to call home as required by his IEP.

The letter of complaint alleges that the IEP provides that the student is permitted to dictate writing assignments longer than one paragraph. The IEP does not contain this requirement. The present level of performance indicates that the student has a "difficult time managing...long writing assignments." The IEP indicates that lengthy assignments may be dictated to staff members while keyboarding skills continue to emerge. The parent explained during the investigation that the allegation that her child is to be permitted to dictate written assignments longer than one paragraph is based on her reading of one of the annual goals. The goal states that the student "will write a paragraph, story or essay that includes structure & grammar by completing the benchmarks." This annual goal statement does not require the district to permit the student to dictate assignments longer than one paragraph. Instead, it provides that staff will instruct the student regarding writing structure and grammar. Furthermore, the parent's letter of complaint for this issue relates to a specific writing assignment which she typed for her son one evening based on his directions. The assignment was accepted as submitted.

The complaint letter alleges that the student constantly is removed from the regular education classroom when he speaks too loudly or when he needs to calm himself and that this violates the requirement that he be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with students who do not have disabilities. The student's IEP provides that he will participate full time in the general curriculum. It also indicates that he will be in the special education resource room five times per week, 45 minutes per session, for language arts programming and seven times per week, 45 minutes each session, for study skills. The sensory diet in the IEP anticipates that he may become agitated and unable to calm himself in the regular environment. When this happens, the IEP indicates that he "should be sent to the special education room" where identified stress relievers will be made available to him. Once he has calmed himself, the IEP provides that he is to return to class.

The behavior plan also permits removal when specified behaviors escalate and specified redirection techniques do not succeed. The plan permits the student either to walk in the hallway or to go to the special education room. If he goes to the special education room, after ten minutes the teacher is to discuss matters with him and determine his readiness to return to class. The stated goal for this process is to return him to the regular education classroom. While the complaint letter alleges that decisions to remove the student from the regular education room are made by the classroom teachers, the district maintains that his aide, who is familiar with his disability and has been trained, including at the beginning of this school year, in the use of the behavior plan, makes the removal decision. The aide and special education teacher are in contact throughout the day regarding the student's status and needs. The aide believes that due to the amount of time she has spent with the student she is able to gauge his behavior and the need to take him to a different environment.

Staff report that the amount of time the student spends out of the regular environment varies over time. Some days, other than during the periods identified in that IEP when he is scheduled to be in the special education classroom, he is in the regular classroom throughout the day. Earlier in the year more removals occurred than is the case now. A change in medication in the fall also affected behavior, which resulted in increased use of the special education room. During the periods when behavior was more problematic, the teacher and aide consulted more often with the program support teacher familiar with the student's disability who is available to district staff. The department concludes that the student's IEP addresses needs related to his disability requiring removal from the regular education environment and that the district is implementing the IEP, including by enabling staff to consult regarding how to address behavior during periods of greater need to enable return to the regular environment. Further, during the IEP team meetings held since January, discussions have included how to further refine the behavior-related portions of the student's program.

Finally, the district acknowledges that portions of an earlier behavior plan for the student mistakenly were attached to the student's IEP following an IEP team meeting on May 16, 2001 and that the team had not discussed them or decided to include them in the student's program. The district removed these items from the IEP promptly after learning of this error. No additional corrective action is required.

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

//signed CST/SJP 4/3/02
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