New Guidance Released on Bullying as Related to Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (“OSERS”) published a new “Dear Colleague” letter in August which discusses best practices for handling of bullying cases involving a student with a disability.  The letter describes that the bullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of FAPE.  The letter stresses that students with disabilities are disproportionately affected by bullying.  Due to the characteristics of a student’s disability, he or she may also not understand the extent to which the bullying is harmful and may not be able to communicate the problem to an adult.  The letter states that even if the bullying is not related to the student’s disability, if the result of the bullying is the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit, then there is a denial of FAPE.  

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IEE's, Residential Placement, Failure to Provide FAPE Addressed in Plainville Court Decision

In a decision issued March 31, 2012, a United States District Court judge has rejected the appeal of the Plainville, Connecticut board of education from a hearing officer's ruling mandating reimbursement for residential placement at the F.L. Chamberlain School in Massachusetts.  In Plainville Board of Education v. R.N. by Mrs. H., 112 LRP 16721 (D. Conn. 2012), Judge Chatigny deferred to the rulings of the hearing officer on issues of educational policy and her findings of fact in ruling in favor of the parent.  As described in the decision, the case presents a remarkable picture of a student who, as a result of severe emotional disturbance, was unable to benefit from a therapeutic day program and required a residential placement in order to make educational progress, and it also addresses some common legal disputes between parents and school districts on the subject of obtaining evaluations and exploring appropriate placement options.  See if you recognize any of this pattern in your current cases:

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Parents Refuse Consent for IEP? Still No Obligation to Write 504 Plan

If you are responsible for the implementation of either IEP's or Section 504 plans in your school district, at some point, you have probably encountered a situation where a parent refuses to provide consent (or revokes consent) for an IEP, and insists that the district instead implement a Section 504 Accommodation Plan.  If so, you have probably wondered whether the district was obligated to do this, and you may have read the 1996 letter of guidance issued by OCR called Letter to McKethan, 25 IDELR 295 (OCR 1996).  Well, it looks like McKethan just got another "shot in the arm" from a U.S. District Court judge in the Western District of Missouri.

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LABOR BOARD REBUKES TEACHER UNION CLAIM THAT NEW SOFTWARE CAUSED INCREASED WORK LOAD

In a move that seemed to defy logic, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) on behalf of its local affiliate the Milford Education Association, filed a complaint claiming that a popular software program, specifically designed to make easier the process of completing paperwork following a Planning and Placement Team meeting (PPT) for a special education student, in fact increased teachers’ workloads.  In the case filed with the State Labor Board, the CEA alleged that the software program took teachers nearly twice as long (one to two hours more per student) to compete an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) than it previously took to do it in long hand.  The workload of the teachers complaining involved in some cases as few as 6 students. 

 

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Parent Cannot Revoke Consent for Special Ed, Then Claim Denial of FAPE

This is one of those (rare) moments where, as a school lawyer, you think common sense has prevailed.  We shouldn't need a decision from a State hearing officer to tell us that once a parent has revoked consent for special education services, then the parent cannot come back and claim that the district has denied the child a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  And yet, we had a four-day hearing in February and March concerning that very issue, resulting in Final Decision and Order 11-0256, Student v. Newtown Board of Education.  The decision will be posted on the State Department of Education website, but until then, you can read a copy of it here.

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OSEP Says Don't Insist on RTI Evidence Before Evaluating Private School Students for Learning Disabilities

A recent letter issued by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) calls into question the practice of denying a request to evaluate a student for potential learning disabilities based upon the failure of the private school where the child attends to conduct Response to Intervention (RTI) activities (or, as we in Connecticut call it, SRBI).  In Letter to Zirkel, 111 LRP 2768 (OSEP 1/6/11), Dr. Zirkel asked OSEP to comment on the question of how a school district that has adopted an RTI approach may meet its "child find" obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in a case where the student attends a private school and the private school has not adopted an RTI approach.  These cases can arise because the child's parents have enrolled the student in a private or parochial school and either the parents or the private school may come to suspect that the child has a learning disability and make a referral to a public school district for evaluation.  If the parents withdraw the stduent from private school and enroll in public school before making the referral for evaluation, these matters may be resolved by having the student participate in the increasingly more intensive tiered levels of instruction in general education required by most RTI models.  However, if the parents want the child to remain in the private school during the evaluation process, the district is now faced with a conundrum: How do we satisfy our obligation to determine whether the child responds to appropriate instruction in general education if we are unable to provide the appropriate instruction that we would typically provide in this situation?

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Connecticut Supreme Court Addresses Whether Mid-Year Increase in Teacher Workload Constitutes Unilateral Change of Condition of Employment

In a decision released by the Connecticut Supreme Court on November 16, 2010, Board of Education of Region 16 v. State Board of Labor Relations et al., Region 16 appealed to the Superior Court challenging a decision by the state board of labor relations (“SBLR”) which concluded that the school district had unilaterally changed a condition of employment in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-153e (b) when it increased the workload of four special education teachers during the course of a school year. The SBLR also held that the school district had engaged in unlawful direct dealing with the employees. The Superior Court dismissed the appeal. The school district appealed to the Appellate Court, which, in turn, transferred the appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Doctor's Claim of Student Disability Due to Mold Allergy Rejected

In a decision released Monday by the State of Connecticut Department of Education, Case No. 09-552, a hearing officer found a student with asthma and allergies triggered by various environmental allergens, including mold and pollen, was not eligible for special education services under the category of Other Health Impaired (OHI).  The student, a senior in high school who actually graduated in June 2010, claimed he should be considered eligible for special education and his family should be eligible for reimbursement for four years of private college preparatory high school education, despite being an honors student with good grades and no need for specially designed instruction at any point during his school career.

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CT DOE Circulates Draft Revised Special Education Regulations

In June 2007, the CT DOE started the process of revising the state special education regulations, and circulated its proposals for public comment.  Based on the responses, the Department decided to revise its proposal and restart the review process.  A new draft has emerged, dated February 3, 2010.  According to the accompanying memorandum from Commissioner McQuillan, a new public comment period will follow.  So, what's in the new draft that might be of interest to LEA's in Connecticut?  For the most part, the new draft more closely tracks the IDEA requirements and narrows the differences between state and federal regulatory requirements.  But there are some significant differences and changes from the earlier draft.

 

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OCR: No Special Education Notation on School Transcripts

OCR's guidance letter issued October 17, 2008 In Re: Report Cards and Transcripts for Students with Disabilities, 108 LRP 60114 (OCR 2008) clarifies that references to special education services received by a student are acceptable on report cards intended for parent use in measuring student progress, but not acceptable on transcripts that may be disclosed to employers and post-secondary institutions.

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Forest Grove Case Drops Other Shoe

In a decision filed December 8, 2009, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon issued a ruling in the case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court and back on the issue of whether a school district could be liable for tuition reimbursement to a private school in a case where the student had never before received special education services from the public school district.  In Forest Grove School District v. T.A., 129 S.Ct. 2484 (2009), the Supreme Court held that the IDEA does not pose a categorical bar to such reimbursement. On remand for a determination of whether the hearing officer's reimbursement order should stand, the United States District court reversed, denying reimbursement to the parents on equitable grounds.

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AG's Office Issues Report to Education Committee Re: BCBA Certification

In a report issued January 13, 2010, the Attorney General's office recommended "as a first step toward full licensure through the Department of Public Health" that the Education Committee of the Connecticut Legislature support one of three options for licensure or certification of behavior analysts operating within Connecticut school districts.  According to the AG's Office recommendation, any one of the three options would apply to providers of behavior analysis for all students with special education needs, not just those with autism spectrum disorders.  The three options are as follows:

(1) Licensure of behavior analysts through the Department of Public Health;

(2) certification and oversight through the Department of Education of behavior analysts and/or behavior analyst specialty certification for existing licensed school professionals; or

(3) statutorily require local boards of education to hire only behavior analysts who are certified by a national board such as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board or who, in their scope of professional practice, may engage in behavior analysis, such as school psychologists.

 

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Second Circuit Decision: Failure to Name Specific School Not a Procedural Violation for IEP

In a new decision issued October 9, 2009, T.Y. v. New York City Dept. of Education, 109 LRP 63646 (2d Cir. 2009), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it is not a procedural violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the IEP not to name a specific school that is recommended for a child with special education needs.  Departing from the 4th Circuit view on this issue in a case decided in 2007, the 2nd Circuit ruled that the IDEA provision requiring IEP's to include the anticipated location of a child's services does not mean that the IEP must name a specific school, just a general type of educational program.

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Much Ado About Nothing

The Supreme Court ruling in the Forest Grove School District v. T.A. case was released this week.  Maybe it's just me, but I don't see this ruling as changing much of anything in the world of special education disputes, at least as far as Connecticut is concerned.  Essentially, the Supreme Court ruled that 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) continues to allow courts to award reimbursement of tuition in unilateral placement cases if they determine that the school district failed to provide FAPE, even if the student has not previously received special education services from the school district.  The Supreme Court seemed offended that the school district could evaluate a child, find the child not eligible for services, fail to provide services, and then benefit from that failure by having the courts deny reimbursement for the parent's unilateral private school placement.  Is this really a surprise to anyone?

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SB 1142 Gutted By Education Committee

In a vote taken April 1, 2009, all 30 of the committee members of the Joint Committee on Education present and voting voted in favor of SB 1142, An Act Concerning State Mandates on School Districts (two members were absent).  However, substitute bill language was adopted by the committee addressing only the issue of the date that non-renewal notices must be sent (adjusting this from April 1 to May 1) and school readiness grants.  The sections addressing the allocation of the burden of proof in a due process hearing and the date for termination of services at age 21 have been removed from the original bill language.  Advocates for these provisions will have to wait until the next legislative session to have their positions heard.

SOAPBOX ALERT: Express Support to the Education Committee for SB 1142

Educators and other interested parties may wish to contact the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly to express support for SB 1142, An Act Concerning Relief of State Mandates on School Districts.  Among other provisions, this bill would finally bring Connecticut in line with other states and with the 2005 United States Supreme Court decision in Schaffer v. Weast, which held that under IDEA, the burden of proof in a special education due process hearing should be on the party requesting the hearing.  Despite this Supreme Court decision, since 2005, Connecticut has failed to remove the provision placing the burden of proof on the school district from the state regulations concerning special education hearings, thereby sending the message to school districts that the programs they develop for children with disabilities should be considered inappropriate unless the school district proves otherwise.  Placing the burden of proof on the school district drives up the administrative costs of special education by causing hearings to be longer and more expensive, since every allegation made by a parent needs to be "disproved" by the school district.  Perhaps more importantly, there is no correlation between the burden of proof being imposed on the school district and improvement in the quality of services provided to children with special needs.  On the contrary, the burden imposed on school districts by lengthy and costly special education hearings often drives talented educators out of the public schools.

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SDOE Memo Denies Excess Cost Grant Reimbursements

The October 31, 2008 memorandum issued by Anne Louise Thompson, Bureau Chief for Special Education, bears a second reading this time of year as districts prepare to submit excess cost grant applications for the spring of 2009.  The memo, issued in the fall, caused shock waves in the special education community initially, as directors absorbed the news that they would no longer be able to obtain excess cost grant funding related to costs incurred through settlement agreements with parents who reject the IEP offered by the district make unilateral placements for their children in private schools.  Unless the district "accepts programmatic responsibility for the child's education" through the development of the IEP, and pays the entire cost of the placement, the district will not be eligible for excess cost grant funding for these agreements.  On the other hand, if the district makes the placement through the PPT (at an approved school), or goes to due process and loses and the hearing officer orders reimbursement of the costs of tuition, the district is eligible to apply for excess costs.

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More Tips for Surviving SDOE Compliance Investigations

For our special education administrator friends, figuring out how to comply with the state and federal special education regulations and proving that to the Bureau of Special Education is no easy task.  Just when you think you have all the rules figured out, the "interpreters" of the regulations manage to invent new requirements.  So, a couple of tips culled from recent experiences:

 (1) Proving compliance with the 5-day rule for sending out the IEP following the PPT meeting: Parents seem to be increasingly concerned about your compliance with the rule that a copy of the IEP should be mailed to them within 5 days following the PPT meeting.  Even if a separate complaint is not filed on this point, it is almost always included on the list entitled "And Another Thing".  Although it is stated nowhere in the regulations that you must retain documentation of this, you will find that the letter from the Bureau inquiring as to your compliance with this rule will ask you for copies of your documentation proving that you have sent a copy of the IEP to the parent within 5 days following the meeting. A couple of ideas for keeping such documentation: Enter the mailing of the IEP as an entry on your log for "documentation of attempts to secure parental participation".  Send a (dated) cover letter with the IEP and keep a copy of the letter in the file along with other correspondence and copies of PPT invitations.  Paperwork reduction act, anyone?

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9th Circuit Decision Calls into Question 45-Day Evaluation Timeline

A decision recently issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in J.G. v. Douglas County School District, 108 LRP 71106 (9th Cir. 2008), calls into question the validity of relying on the 45-school-day evaluation timeline in the state special education regulations for the completion of an initial special education evaluation as "reasonable".  In this case, a referral to special education of twins with developmental delays came into the school district in early May, and the twins were scheduled for evaluation consistent with Nevada's 45-school-day evaluation timeline, which stopped during the summer months and picked up again in the fall.  In the middle of the summer, while the evaluations were in progress, the school district received word that there was a possibility that the twins might be autistic.  The evaluation plan was revised to include evaluations for autism, and meanwhile the children were identified as eligible for services based on a developmental delay, and were provided with an IEP.  Once the autism evaluations were completed in the fall, the IEP's were revised to include the autism diagnosis and additional services appropriate for children with autism.  The parents argued that the school district unreasonably delayed the evaluation of the twins and provision of appropriate services, and the school district argued that the evaluation timeline was reasonable, in part because it complied with the state's 45-day regulatory requirements.

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IDEA Regulations Revised to Allow Revocation of Parental Consent for Special Education

Effective December 31, 2008, parents will be able to revoke consent for special education services and school districts will not be able to challenge the decision through mediation or due process.  In their comments to the new regulations, United States Department of Education officials explained that they believe that the right to revoke consent for special education is consistent with the other parental consent provisions of the IDEA regulations which require parents to give written consent for the initial provision of special education services and state that consent is voluntary and may be revoked at any time.  The concerns of school officials expressed during the regulatory comment period that eligibility for special education services should be made by a team of professionals and parents working together and that parents should not be able to veto the decision of the team were overruled in this process.

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Second Circuit Formally Adopts LRE Standard

In a recent decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (NY, VT, CT) formally joined its sister circuit courts in adopting a standard for determining when a school district has fulfilled its responsibility to educate a student with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  In P. v. Newington Board of Education (10/9/08), the court adopted a "flexible, fact-specific analysis, considering whether, with the aid of appropriate supplemental aids and services, education in the regular classroom may be achieved, and, if not, whether the school has included the student in regular classes, programs, and activities to the maximum extent appropriate."  Applying that analysis to the case before it, the court found that the school district had fulfilled that responsibility for P., a student with Down Syndrome, hearing impairment, and other significant health problems.

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Seclusion and Restraint Administrative Regulations Set for Public Hearing

The newly proposed administrative regulations from the State Department of Education on the subject of seclusion and restraint of special education students were published in the Connecticut Law Journal on July 15, 2008, so they are now officially open for public comment for a 30-day period until August 15, 2008.  A public hearing has also been scheduled for Tuesday, August 19, 2008 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the SERC Classroom, 25 Industrial Park Road, Middletown, CT.  Views and arguments may be submitted in writing to Attorney Theresa DeFrancis, Education Consultant, Bureau of Special Education, P.O. Box 2219, Hartford, CT 06145.

A full copy of the proposed regulations can be obtained by clicking here.

Special Ed Hearing Statistics for 2007

If you have the patience to click on each individual numerical link on the State Department of Education website under Special Education Due Process Hearing Decisions, you too may be able to discern the following statistics from the 2007 hearing decisions.  These numbers are based on only those cases filed in 2007 that were also decided in 2007; it will not include those that were filed in 2006 and decided in 2007, or those filed in 2007 and decided in 2008.  None of the 2008 decisions have been posted yet.

Number of cases filed and withdrawn or dismissed due to settlement: 154

Number of cases filed by parents and dismissed on motion from the board: 6

Number of cases decided "on the merits": 15

Of the cases decided "on the merits", number decided in favor of boards: 9

Of the cases decided "on the merits", number decided in favor of boards where the parent was not represented by counsel ("uncontested cases"): 5

Remaining decisions in favor of boards in "contested cases": 4

Of the cases decided "on the merits", number decided in favor of parents: 4

Split decisions (part of ruling in favor of board, part in favor of parent): 2

 

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Berchem, Moses & Devlin Announces the Opening of its Westport Office

Two Historic Law Firms Join Forces to Become Pre-eminent Connecticut Firm

Two of the oldest law firms in Connecticut have joined forces in a move that will create one of the most comprehensive legal services businesses in the state. Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C. and Wake, See, Dimes, Bryniczka & Bloom (of Westport, Conn.) have combined their practices, as of March 1, 2008, resulting in a staff of nearly 30 attorneys covering 14 different law specialties. The new firm will operate under the name of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C., and will maintain existing offices at 75 Broad Street in Milford and 27 Imperial Avenue in Westport.

Areas of practice at Berchem, Moses & Devlin include education law, business and commercial law, labor and employment, civil litigation, land use, estate planning, and real estate law. The newly combined firm will have a particular strength in education and municipal law.

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Busy Season at the State Legislature

If the last few days are any indication, it promises to be a busy season for the General Assembly, particularly at the Committee on Education.  Multiple bills have been raised in both the Senate and the House pertaining to education of school-age children, and most of these have been referred to the Education committee. While by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few of the more interesting bills submitted to the committee or raised by the committee so far this session: Continue Reading...

Labor Board New Past Practice Exception For School Districts

The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations recently issued a decision, Region 16 Board of Education, Decision No. 4270 (2007), in which it held that a unilateral change in the workload of Special Education Teachers constituted a prohibited practice. In doing so, the Board created an exception to the general rule that a unit wide fixed practice must be demonstrated in order for a union to establish a unilateral change based upon prior practice. 

Generally, it is an unfair labor practice for an employer to change a term or condition of employment in the face of a unit wide fixed past practice. Accordingly, where there has been a mixed practice, unions have been hard pressed to prove a violation. 

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State Agencies Collect Attorney's Fees for Defending Frivolous IDEA Litigation

In 2004, the IDEA was amended to provide for the possibility that school districts and state educational agencies might be able to collect attorney's fees from parents and parent attorneys if the due process complaint or subsequent litigation was found to be "frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation".  Apparently, the courts have found one case that falls into that category and have awarded attorney's fees to a prevailing state educational agency.  Continue Reading...

Border Wars

Do you have students placed in out-of-state residential (boarding) schools by parents?  If so, this OSEP guidance letter may be of interest to you, particularly if some of those students are in Massachusetts and the state or the school has previously sent the parents back to you for evaluation if there was a potential special education issue.  In a letter directed to the State Director of Special Education, Letter to Mittnacht, 48 IDELR 194 (OSEP 2007), OSEP Director Alexa Posny indicated that the plan submitted by Massachusetts for compliance with IDEA 2004 may not be in compliance with the federal law.  Specifically, it appears that parents of students placed in Massachusetts residential and boarding schools who have attempted to refer those students for initial special education evaluations may have been told that the local school district will not conduct the evaluation if the student was an out-of-state resident.  Ms. Posny politely pointed out that this may conflict with 34 C.F.R. 300.131(f), which requires the local school district to take responsibility for child find, even if the student is a resident of another state, like Connecticut. Continue Reading...

Yes, Virginia, There is an IEP

Have you heard from some parent advocates that "there is no IEP" for a special education student unless the parent has agreed to the plan proposed by the school district?  A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reaffirms that an IEP does, in fact, "exist" as a legally recognizable document at the time that it is proposed by the school-based members of the IEP team, and the right of the parents at that point is to exercise their procedural safeguards and request a due process hearing if they disagree with the IEP proposed by the school. Continue Reading...

Supreme Court Update

The United States Supreme Court has denied a petition to review the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Board of Education of Hyde Park v. Frank G., 459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006).  Reviewing this case would have allowed the high court a second chance to review arguments similar to those made in the Tom F. case reported earlier, in which the justices deadlocked in a 4-4 decision over whether parents of children with special education needs are entitled to obtain reimbursement for unilateral private placements made in cases where the child has never received services from the public school district.  Since the Supreme Court seems unwilling to take a second shot at reviewing these arguments, litigation in the remaining circuits that do not have decisions on this issue seems inevitable.  Could Congress resolve this issue through legislation enacted during the expected 2009 reauthorization of the IDEA?  The time may be right for individuals, school districts and lobbying groups with an interest in this issue to organize their lobbying campaigns to go to Washington in 2009.  If not resolved by legislation, the composition of the Supreme Court when this issue comes before them again could influence the outcome.  Think about that when you go to the polls in the 2008 Presidential election....

Supreme Court Ducks Ruling on Special Education

The Supreme Court issued a highly anticipated decision in the case of Board of Education of the City of New York v. Tom F. ex rel. Gilbert F., 107 LRP 58890 (U.S. 2007), but disappointed all court-watchers by failing to rule on the merits of the case.  After an impartial hearing officer in New York awarded a family reimbursement for a unilateral placement of their child in a school for children with learning disabilities based on the school district's procedural error of failing to include all of the necessary participants in the IEP meeting, the federal district court in New York reversed the hearing officer, concluding that the family was not entitled to such reimbursement because the child had never received special education services from the school district before being unilaterally placed by his parents in a private school.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the district court's ruling and remanded the case to the district court in light of its recent ruling in the case of Board of Education of Hyde Park Central School District v. Frank G. ex rel. Anthony G., 459 F.3d 356 (2d Cir. 2006), that reimbursement is not restricted so long as the school district has failed to provide FAPE and the parents have provided appropriate notice of their intent to make a unilateral placement. Continue Reading...

New Reporting and Notification Requirements for Seclusion and Restraint

Public Act 07-147, which took effect October 1, 2007, makes sections of the Connecticut General Statutes concerning the use of seclusion time out and physical restraint previously applicable only to institutions operated by the State and special education schools, now applicable to local and regional boards of education as well.  All children receiving special education services or who are being evaluated for eligibility for special education services are now defined as "persons at risk" under Section 46a-150 of the Connecticut General Statutes.  Local and regional boards of education must now incorporate any use of seclusion time out or physical restraint into a child's IEP and comply with the reporting requirements and parental notification requirements of these statutes. Continue Reading...

New OSEP Guidance Requires Parental Consent for FBA's

New guidance issued by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education indicates that if a Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) is conducted in order to determine behavioral supports and services required for an individual child, that FBA constitutes an "evaluation" under IDEA for which parental consent is required.  According to OSEP, the only situation in which parental consent would not be required for an FBA would be if the FBA was being conducted with respect to the whole school to assess the effectiveness of behavioral interventions general, and was not directed at any specific student.  This is a significant change of direction for OSEP, since previous guidance and cases decided in this area had suggested that an FBA should be considered either a teaching methodology or consistent with general ongoing observation of a child's behavior and data collection, neither of which would constitute an "evaluation" requiring parental consent.  Following this guidance, parents may now claim entitlement to an independent FBA if they disagree with the FBA conducted by the school district, since the FBA is now considered an evaluation, triggering the independent educational evaluation (IEE) procedural safeguards.  A copy of the OSEP letter can be found at Letter to Christiansen, 48 IDELR 161 (OSEP 2007).

Supreme Court Ruling on Special Education

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants parents independent legal rights which encompass the entitlement to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for their child.  The decision means that non-attorney parents can litigate IDEA claims in federal court unrepresented by legal counsel, because they are acting on their own behalf. Significantly, the Court side-stepped the question of whether IDEA authorizes a parent to litigate another party’s (the child’s) claims. 

In this action, Jeff and Sandee Winkelman sued their child’s school district after an administrative hearing officer rejected their claim that their son’s individualized education program (IEP) failed to provide him with FAPE as required by IDEA. As the case went on, the Winkelmans proceeded without an attorney. The district court agreed with the hearing officer that the school district had provided their son with FAPE, and the parents appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit held that IDEA does not authorize parents to appear pro se on behalf of their child, a question on which other federal courts were divided.

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SDE Issues Proposed Revisions to State Special Education Regulations

On March 8, 2007, Interim Chief of the Bureau of Special Education Dr. Nancy Cappello issued her Proposed Revisions to the State Special Education Regulations.  Subsequent inquiries to the State Department of Education (SDE) have yielded no announcement of dates when public comments will be accepted concerning the Proposed Regulations.  However, numerous groups and individuals around the State are in the process of reviewing the proposals and compiling commentary to be submitted when the time is right.  Discussions with school personnel in our area of the State suggest that a number of the proposals merit further discussion. 

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OSERS Issues New Guidance on Discipline

Responding to requests for clarification of the new 2006 IDEA regulations issued in the area of student discipline, OSERS issued non-binding guidance entitled "Questions and Answers on Discipline Procedures", found at 47 IDELR 227 (OSERS 2007).  In this commentary, OSERS states that the "2004 amendments to section 615(k) of the IDEA were intended to address the needs expressed by school administrators and teachers for flexibility in order to address school safety issues balanced against the need to ensure that schools respond appropriately to a child's behavior that was caused by, or directly and substantially related to, the child's disability." 

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