This article was published on the Estes Park Trail Gazette by Jason Van Tatenhove on January 4, 2021.
The grandparent of an Estes Park student who has been identified as a child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA,) has filed a state-level complaint against Larimer County School District R-3 on August 3rd, 2020.
According to the State-Level Complaint Document 2020:526, dated Oct. 2nd, 2020, and written by State Complaints Officer (SCO), Ashley Schubert, the state ruled that the District has violated the following IDEA requirements:
A. Failing to provide periodic reports of student’s progress on his annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, in violation of 34 C.F.R. § 300.320(a)(3);
B. Failing to fully implement the student’s 2018 IEP by not providing the student with Extended School Year (ESY) services on August 5-8, 2019, in violation of 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(c)(2); and
C. Failing to fully implement the student’s 2018 and 2019 IEPs by not providing the student all the required special education and related services, in violation of 34 C.F.R. § 300.323(c)(2).
The state also found that:
“This case involves more than a minor discrepancy between the services required and the services provided. Here, the District neglected to provide Student with the majority of his special education and related services under both the 2018 IEP and the 2019 IEP. In total, Student lost over 308 hours of services between August 2019 and January 2020. The District’s failure to implement the IEPs resulted in Student experiencing no time with general education peers (whether through academics, recess, or lunch). Even if the SCO wanted to consider Student’s educational progress, or lack thereof, the District’s progress monitoring was deficient. As a result, the SCO finds and concludes that the District’s failure to implement both Student’s 2018 IEP and 2019 IEP to be material failures that amount to a denial of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This denial of FAPE entitles Student to an award of compensatory services.”
During the State investigation it was found that there were several discrepancies in the service provider logs with the School Psychologist.
According to the document: “Though the SCO requested all service provider logs in her initial correspondence with the District, the District failed to produce any service provider logs with its Response. During questioning, School Psychologist indicated she had logged Student’s services on paper.
When the SCO directed the District to produce those logs by a set deadline, the District failed to do so. Finally, on September 18, 2020—46 days into the 60-day investigation—the District produced School Psychologist’s notes. Those notes plainly contradict the daily reports previously produced by the Special Education Teacher. This is not a situation where a scrivener’s error could have resulted in a minor contradiction between the two staff members’ accounts. The contradictions are so significant that both accounts cannot be true.”
To remedy these violations, the District has ordered to take the following actions:
The District shall submit to CDE a corrective action plan (CAP) that adequately addresses the violations noted in this Decision. The CAP must effectively address how the cited noncompliance will be corrected so as not to recur as to Student and all other students with disabilities for whom the District is responsible. Also, to provide Compensatory Education Services for Denial of a FAPE.
The Trail-Gazette reached out to Lazlo Hunt, Director of Student Services for the Estes Park School District, who, as part of his position, is to provide oversight for Special Education for a statement on this decision.
He explains “This a really normal part of our process. When a Student has a IEP (Individual Education Plan) we develop that plan and provide what is called, ‘procedural safe guards’ that are places for dispute resolution…So, the idea is that if the parent feels something isn’t going right for their student or their plan wasn’t being followed, there are processes first, within the district, that are typically utilized such as IEP meetings.” If that isn’t what the parent seeks to do then the next step is a State-Level Complaint with the Colorado Department of Education.
When a complaint is filed with the SCO, that person reviews that information and gathers further information. This includes meeting with the staff involved. The SCO then decides what has happened and how the remedy the situation within the district. This process looks at procedural processes and services provided or not.
There were two complaints in this case which included a previous complaint that was addressed through a mediation that avoids the state complaint process. The first complaint was submitted the 2019 school year and the state complaint was filed earlier this year.
When asked about the State findings, Hunt stated, “I have no issues with what the state complaint shared with us and I feel really good about about. There were some areas I disagreed with but, we worked through that and I feel the results and remedies are very fair and, for us, has been a learning experience. It’s a very complicated system and basically I rely on special education teachers and providers to write the IEP’s and this helped us to look at our procedures and some things that we needed to work on to make services better for all of our students.”
Some of the changes that the district will be implementing moving forward will have to do with streamlining procedures of documenting services provided to students, and provide more transparency to parents. There are also required trainings for district staff.
Hunt added “I personally feel that we have done really good serving, not only this student, but, all of our students. Overall this has only been the second complaint we have had in the five years since I have been here (they both come from the same family.) We address difficult needs and address them with a challenging resource system since we are so small and far away from other districts. From my perspective one of the big take aways is not only transparency with service delivery, but the other side to this is how can we consistently look at our plans and make sure our plans are addressing the needs of students…It’s a reminder that even with students that are very challenging, we have to consistently go back in to those plans and make sure that they are matching the needs of the student.”
There was also a “A-ha moment” for Hunt in regard to issues of inconsistencies with reporting to parents, which can be challenging with multiple protocols buildings and staff. But getting those progress reports consistent and timely is a big part of the take away for him.
The ruling and findings of the State Complaint Officer with this case can be viewed at http://www.cde.state.co.us/spedlaw/sc2020-526
The Trail-Gazette is in the process of interviewing the grandparent and Special Educator, who has been working with the student and will be publishing more on this story soon.