On March 17, 2005, the Department of Public Instruction received a complaint under state and federal special education law from XXXXX against the Appleton Area School District. This is the department's decision regarding that complaint. The issues are whether the district:
- During the 2004-2005 school year, properly assisted a child to achieve the goal and related objectives in her individualized education program (IEP) regarding self-advocacy skills and knowledge of deaf and hard of hearing issues; and
- During an IEP team meeting conducted in February 2005, properly responded to the parents' request that their child have an interpreter during lunch and recess, and to their determination that they needed additional time to permit meaningful participation.
On March 15, 2004, an IEP team meeting was held to develop the student's IEP and determine placement. Concerns expressed by the parents included interaction with peers, sign as her primary mode of communication, American Sign Language (ASL) formal instruction, self-esteem, equal access to all settings, and feedback regarding the student's progress and her delayed social skills.
There was one goal for increasing the student's self-advocacy skills and knowledge about deaf and hard of hearing issues so "that the student is able to advocate for herself and her needs as appropriate for her age level." Three short-term objectives focused on the student being able to: (1) demonstrate a basic understanding of ASL grammar, facial expression, and body placement; (2) demonstrate independence with her amplification equipment; and (3) demonstrate appropriate use of assistive devices such as TTYs [teletypewriters], VRS [video relay systems], and alarms.
The district reported that the goal for increasing her self-advocacy skills and knowledge about deaf and hard of hearing issues as appropriate for her age level have improved, with the first two short term objectives having been met. The third short term objective has been implemented only in the area of use of the TTY. The district has not provided the VRS technology and alarms.
Interviews with school staff support that there were general discussions about several assistive devices at the annual March 2004 IEP team meeting providing an opportunity for the student to explore and become familiar with a variety of assistive technology devices. The district contends that the VRS equipment should not have been included in the March 2005 IEP. The district maintains that the IEP provision was added at the parent's request through an email (dated March 18, 2004) to the case manager/teacher following the March 15, 2004, IEP team meeting. Despite this assertion, the district has been proceeding with the installation of the VRS technology. Prior to the start of the 2005-2006 school year, the district must reconvene an IEP team meeting to determine whether the VRS technology and/or alarms are necessary to meet the student's needs.
On February 28, 2005, an IEP team meeting was held for the purpose of reviewing and revising the IEP and determining placement. At the beginning of the meeting the district offered the parents the opportunity for additional time and asked the parents if the meeting could proceed or was it necessary to reschedule when the advocate who was invited could be present. The parents agreed to proceed with the meeting. When the discussion reached related services, the parents requested the additional services of the educational interpreter during lunch and recesses. School staff discussed the educational appropriateness of providing a one-on-one educational interpreter during lunch and recess periods. An educational interpreter currently is available to assist with communication during those times, but not one-on-one for the student. School staff also discussed whether this was an individual student need as the student now interacts with other students on the playground and at lunch. Consensus was reached among district staff that the student needs an interpreter for support only during academic classes. The parents did not agree. On March 15, 2005, the district sent a letter refusing the parents' request for additional educational interpreter services during lunch and recess periods with the explanation that these services were not necessary for FAPE to occur.
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 (FAPE). The district properly responded to the parents' request that their child have an educational interpreter during lunch and recess. As the lengthy discussion regarding educational interpreter services progressed, the district felt that some decisions needed to be made to meet the annual IEP review timeline. The parents allege that when they requested the IEP team meeting to stop and reconvene at a later date with an advocate, they were not granted this right by the district. The district explained to the parents that while it was their right to request additional time, an annual IEP review timeline would soon expire. The district consensus was to complete the IEP with the parents at that time. The parents stayed to finish the IEP to meet the annual deadline, with the understanding that another IEP team meeting would be reconvened, if necessary, at a later time.
An IEP team meeting was convened on May 25, 2005, to determine continued eligibility of the student in the areas of speech and language impairment and hearing impairment, review and revise the IEP, determine continuing placement, and consider the results of outside agency evaluations. The IEP developed on February 28, 2005, and reviewed on May 25, 2005, was to be implemented with a projected date of implementation on June 3, 2005. Goals and objectives listed on the IEP were not changed from the February 2005 IEP.
State law requires that if the parents or local educational agency staff determines that additional time is needed, the local educational agency must provide it. Federal law requires that each public agency must ensure that the IEP team reviews the child's IEP periodically, but not less than annually, to determine whether the annual goals for the child are being achieved. The district properly responded to the parents' request regarding additional time by offering to reconvene the meeting at another time.
This concludes our review of this complaint.
Carolyn Stanford Taylor
Assistant State Superintendent
Division for Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy