On March 8, 2019, the Special Education Hearing Officer was presented with a case regarding an elementary school student with autism and the Colonial School District. While the parents did not dispute that the child was a student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act, they disputed whether or not the District provided the child with Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE ensures students with disabilities receive the education they need at public expense.
Before the hearing began on the matter at hand, counsel discovered two issues that were presented by the child’s parents:
- Is the District providing the student with FAPE in the 2018-2019 school year?
- What should the student’s educational placement be for the 2019-2020 school year?
Findings in the Case
The two parties had previously engaged in a round of special education due process in May 2018. The decision reached during this concluded that the District’s evaluation process was prejudicially flawed and could not serve as the precedent for appropriate programming. As a result, the hearing officer ordered an independent education evaluation to establish the private placement of the student at the time and their pendent placement.
As of August 2018, the evaluation had not been issued and the District began the student’s individualized education program (IEP). Dissatisfied, the parents requested a mediation that turned out to be unsuccessful. In November, the parents filed the complaint stating their child was denied FAPE through the District’s placement. At about the same time, the evaluation was issued. With this, the student’s IEP team met and implemented a December 2018 IEP. In February 2019, the hearing officer issued a pendency ruling to keep the student’s private placement where they had been attending during the 2018-2019 school year.
Under this ruling, the child attends private school #1. This school contracts with a different private academy that focuses on students with autism to provide the services they need. The independent evaluation concluded the student should be in an academically-oriented environment instead of an autism-support environment. The parents believe their child should continue to receive autism-support services from the academy during the 2019-2020 school year.
In accordance with the findings in the case, Special Education Hearing Officer Michael J. McElligott came to a conclusion. He presided that the School District did not deny, and is not denying, the student FAPE for the 2018-2019 school year. In addition to this, the individualized education program that was implemented in December 2018 would continue in the District’s specialized learning support classroom. During the first 20 days of the 2019-202 school district, a functional behavior assessment is to be performed on the student. Within the first 30 days, the District is to design a positive behavior support plan to be incorporated in the student’s IEP.
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