Our conference Q&A session was a big hit, but not all of the questions could be answered. Let’s take a look at a few. . .
Q: Please discuss the areas in which the district must complete assessment. For example, if the parent has a concern with autism and/or speech, but the district does not have concerns in this area. Does an AU evaluation and speech evaluation need to be completed? What about when the parent makes these concerns five days prior to the evaluation completion date?
A: Before you deny a parent-requested evaluation, be clear on the reasons you are refusing to do so and provide the requisite prior written notice. A parent can challenge the denial of a requested evaluation. Under IDEA’s implementing regulations, a public agency may refuse to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of FAPE to the child, if the public agency provides written notice. This includes situations in which a public agency wishes to deny a parent’s request for an initial evaluation. If a District wants to deny a parent’s request for evaluation, including an initial evaluation, the written notice would provide, among other things, an explanation of why the public agency refuses to conduct an evaluation and the information that was used to make that decision. A parent may challenge the public agency’s refusal to conduct an evaluation by requesting a due process hearing. A request for an evaluation made days before the deadline for evaluation should be considered and discussed by the student’s ARD Committee. You can proceed with the evaluation that is already underway and, when considering the results of that evaluation, the ARD Committee should consider whether it uncovered the need for additional testing. If so, the ARD Committee can consider whether the parent’s request for testing is warranted and either proceed with the parent-requested testing or, if not, provide the requisite prior written notice. Districts will need to consult state and federal evaluation timelines as well. See e.g., 19 Tex. Admin. Code Chapter 89.
Q: What guidance can we give campus principals on short-term removals once they have exhausted their 10 free FAPE days? Would the child’s IEP team reconvene for a manifestation ARD after every short-term disciplinary removal beyond the 10 days?
A: It depends if the removal, beyond the ten days, would constitute a “change in placement.” Under 34 CFR §300.536, a change of placement occurs if the removal is for more than 10 consecutive school days, or if the public agency determines, on a case-by-case basis, that a pattern of removals constitutes a change of placement because the series of removals total more than 10 school days in a school year; the child’s behavior is substantially similar to the behavior that resulted in the previous removals; and because of such additional factors as the length of each removal, the total amount of time the child has been removed, and the proximity of the removals to one another. 34 CFR §300.530(e) requires that “within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of student conduct” the LEA, the parent, and relevant members of the child’s IEP Team must conduct a manifestation determination. Thus, a determination must be made that the short-term removals beyond the ten days constitute a change in placement. For more on special education discipline procedures, check out this Q&A on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Q: Are there any protections for school staff in regards to dealing with parents who reference legal action in a way to scare or coerce them into what they want to see happen with their child?
A: Unfortunately, as educators we sometimes have to deal with uncomfortable parent interactions. Tensions can run high, especially if there are unreasonable expectations by the parents or a prolonged, unresolved issue. Ultimately, district personnel must serve as the voice of reason and hear out parent concerns, document efforts to address those concerns, and follow policies and procedures fairly and consistently. If a parent is truly threatening or unruly, there are steps you can take to limit their access to campus. For example, you can require prior notice or an appointment for them to come to the school and limit them to the school’s administrative offices. Parents can be required to speak directly to an assigned administrator, rather than taking their concerns to the student’s teachers. Alternatively, a district can insist on an administrator’s presence at parent-teacher meetings. In the most extreme instances, involving truly threatening and disruptive behavior, parents may be restricted from their child’s campus. Unfortunately, threats of litigation cannot be eliminated, but if you act as the voice of reason, follow policy and state and federal procedures, and document efforts to work with the parent, you’ll be in a good position in the face of litigation. Consultation with the district’s legal counsel is recommended before any measures are taken to limit a parent’s access to campus.