On May 27, 2004, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Verona Area School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district, in developing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the 2004-2005 school year for a student, considered the parents' concerns for enhancing the education of their child; developed a proper statement of needed transition services for the student and invited a representative of an agency likely to be responsible for providing or paying for needed transition services.
In their letter of complaint, the parents maintain that their concerns for enhancing the education of their child were not considered when the IEP team developed his program for the 2004-2005 school year and that they were not treated as equal participants during the development of the program. State and federal law require that IEP teams consider the parents' concerns and the information that they provide regarding their child in developing, reviewing, and revising IEPs. The IEP team meeting serves as a communication vehicle between parents and school personnel, and enables them, as equal participants, to make joint, informed decisions regarding the child's needs and appropriate goals; the extent to which the child will be involved in the general curriculum and participate in the regular education environment and State and district-wide assessments; and the services needed to support that involvement and participation and to achieve agreed-upon goals. The IEP team should work toward consensus, but the public agency has ultimate responsibility to ensure that the IEP includes the services that the child needs in order to receive a free appropriate public education. If the team cannot reach consensus, the public agency must provide the parents with prior written notice of the agency's proposals or refusals, or both, regarding the child's educational program, and the parents have the right to seek resolution of any disagreements by initiating mediation or an impartial due process hearing.
In late October 2003, the district sent the parents a notice of reevaluation in response to their request for a reevaluation earlier in the month. In December, the district requested an extension of the 90-day time limit for completing the reevaluation and making a placement for the student to permit time to receive information from an evaluation arranged by the parent. The parents agreed to the extension. Two more extensions were requested, with the parents agreeing to one, but refusing the last request. In late February, the IEP team met and determined that the student continues to have disabilities and a need for special education. IEP teams met in mid March and three times in April to complete the IEP and placement for the student, and in so doing, complete the evaluation process begun the previous October.
The April meetings totaled four hours. District staff also met with the parent outside IEP team meetings throughout the school year and the parents communicated with district staff by email nearly every day, often more than once a day. On April 13, the parents emailed 24 goal proposals to district staff in preparation for the first meeting in April. District staff considered these proposals in preparing a draft IEP for discussion during the first meeting in April and believed that their draft goals were comparable to some of the parents' proposals. After the last team meeting in April, the district gave the parents notice of the district's responses to the parents' goal proposals submitted in early April, including that the district accepted some of them. The parents also submitted 24 pages of goal proposals to the IEP team at the beginning of the first April meeting. The final IEP incorporated present levels of performance information requested by the parents.
At the last meeting in April, the local educational agency representative ended the meeting after one hour. The next day she sent a letter to the parents explaining the district's position regarding completion of the IEP process for their child. She indicated that 10 formal and 6 informal meetings totaling 20 hours of discussion had taken place since the reevaluation process had been initiated. She indicated that the district three times had requested extensions of the 90-day time limit for completing the reevaluation, that the parents had agreed to two extensions, but had refused the most recent request. She indicated her belief that district staff had reached consensus regarding the student's IEP, but that she had concluded it would not be possible to achieve consensus with the parents. In March and April the district gave the parents formal notice of the district's response to parental requests, in addition to the notice of placement upon completion of the IEP. The district followed required procedures related to considering parent educational concerns and parent participation on IEP teams.
The parents also maintain that the district did not develop proper statements of transition services for their son and did not invite a representative of an agency likely to be responsible for providing or paying for needed transition services. Districts must develop a statement of needed transition services in students' IEPs no later than their 16th birthday, including, if appropriate, a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages. Districts also must invite to IEP team meetings a representative of any other agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services. The statement of needed transition services focuses on the student's need for such services as he or she moves from school to post-school experiences, and any linkages that may be needed. These statements, as with the other components of the IEP, must be individualized in accordance with the needs of the student. More specifically, transition services are defined to be a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that is designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; is based on individual student needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests; and includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation. The parents maintain that the transition statement for their son does not conform to this definition.
The district and parents agree that the student will continue to receive services from the district for several more years. The IEP details multiple, extensive, ways in which the district elicited the student's preferences and interests related to his life after he completes his education in the district. The summary of transition services page of the student's IEP cross references five of the student's goals related to instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives. The summary also indicates that the student will be encouraged to take courses from the district's curriculum related to acquisition of daily living skills and that a job coach will gather data for his vocational portfolio. Three of the IEP goals specifically address skills to prepare the student for work and daily living following completion of public secondary education. One focuses on assisting the student to determine his interests in different kinds of jobs, one addresses development of general skills and attitudes needed to maintain employment, and one relates to learning safe and appropriate use of different transportation modes. The present levels of educational performance for the student describe needs which will be addressed by these transition services.
The district considered the goal proposals related to transition submitted by the parents and gave them notice of the district's response to their requests. All three transition goals in the IEP correspond to goals submitted by the parents. The district also provided the parents with notice of its response to their request for the district to offer the student work-related classes at another educational agency, indicating that technical courses offered by the district remain appropriate for the student and that it would be premature for the student to participate in the other program now. The IEP team meeting notices sent in 2003-2004 all indicate that the district is not inviting representatives of agencies which may responsible for providing or paying for needed transition services. The district does not believe transition services offered by other agencies are required for the student at this time. The district followed required procedures related to developing a statement of needed transition services consistent with each element of the definition of transition services and developed statements based on student-specific data.
This concludes our review of this complaint, which we are closing.
//signed CST 7/26/04
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy