On March 27, 2003, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issue is whether the district, during the 2002-2003 school year, properly afforded the father of a child with a disability the opportunity to participate in individualized education program (IEP) team meetings.
On December 16, 2002, a referral for special education was completed by the general education classroom teacher regarding the student, noting areas of concern. On December 18, 2002, the school psychologist met with the student's mother to discuss the referral and shared the paperwork involved in the process. The parental notice and consent form was signed and returned on Janaury 4, 2003, by the student's mother.
On February 14, 2003, an invitation to an IEP team meeting scheduled for March 10, 2003, was sent to the child's mother. On March 3, 2003, an invitation to an IEP team meeting scheduled for March 10, 2003, was also sent to the student's father who is currently incarcerated. On March 7, 2003, the father sent a letter to the building principal authorizing his mother, the student's paternal grandmother, to view any and all of the student's records and to represent him during the IEP team meetings.
On March 10, 2003, an IEP team meeting was held for the student for the purposes of determining initial eligibility for special education, to develop an initial IEP and to determine initial placement. During this IEP team meeting, the paternal grandmother attempted to keep the IEP team meeting from being conducted. The paternal grandmother asserted that she was acting as a surrogate parent for her incarcerated son, the student's father, and did not want the meeting to proceed. The child's mother wanted the meeting to proceed.
The parents of the child whose education is the subject of this complaint are divorced. The district was obligated to ascertain the custody status of the student by requesting a copy of the court's order. In that order dated October 3, 2001, the court awarded primary physical placement and sole legal custody to the mother. When a court grants sole legal custody to one parent, that parent has the sole right and responsibility to make major educational decisions concerning the child, unless the order specifies otherwise. The October 3, 2001, order did not specify otherwise.
The mother has the sole right and responsibility to make major educational decisions for her minor son including the right and responsibility to participate in determining eligibility for special education. The father retains only the right to access the student's records upon request. The father also is authorized to release those records to other parties. The district acted appropriately in this situation.
This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy