Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

This site is a service of Shipman & Goodwin LLP. Lawyers in Shipman & Goodwin’s School Law Practice Group represent public and private schools, school districts, and post-secondary institutions. The firm’s clients include local and regional school districts throughout Connecticut, independent schools, colleges and universities. This site is intended to track emerging school law issues and keep our clients and other visitors informed of recent developments in school law both within Connecticut and at the national level.

November 17, 2014 08:43 AM | Posted by Peter J. Maher | Full Text

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) together with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) recently issued joint guidance regarding the obligations of public schools to meet the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.  The focus of the guidance is these agencies’ interpretation that different standards exist under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for meeting the communication needs of students with disabilities and that compliance with the IDEA will not always result in compliance with the “effective communication” regulation of the ADA. This interpretation is in line with, and cites, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision from the Ninth Circuit (covering the western states), which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review.  See K.M. v. Tustin Unified Sch. Dist., 725 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 1493 (2014).

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October 03, 2014 03:00 PM | Posted by Gary Brochu | Full Text

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on special education titled “Improved Performance Measures Could Enhance Oversight of Dispute Resolution.” According to the GAO report, from 2004-2012 the number of special education due process hearings substantially decreased nationwide as a result of steep declines in New York, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Officials in these locations attributed these declines to greater use of mediation and resolution meetings, which are meetings that the IDEA has required states to implement since 2004. However, the GAO report did not explain why these three locations saw such dramatic results while other states did not see similarly dramatic reductions.

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May 01, 2014 09:15 AM | Posted by Peter J. Maher | Full Text

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held in T.M. v. Cornwall Central School District, --- F.3d ---, 2014 WL 1303156 (April 2, 2014), that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s requirement that special education students be educated in the “least restrictive environment” (“LRE”) applies not only to a student’s school-year program, but also to extended school-year (“ESY”) services.  Therefore, if a student requires ESY services, the school district must offer a continuum of alternative placements and conduct the same LRE analysis in determining what placement is appropriate for the student.  In T.M., the student, who has autism, received his school-year education in a “mainstream” setting with supports.  The district did not operate a mainstream ESY program and it offered the student ESY programs that contained only students with disabilities.  The parents enrolled the student in a private mainstream summer program and sought reimbursement from the district.

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January 30, 2014 09:30 AM | Posted by Gary R. Brochu | Full Text

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has ruled that the IDEA does not require a school district to request a due process hearing when the IEP team amends an IEP and the parents object. Instead, the court held that it is the parent’s responsibility to request a due process hearing.

The Fulton County School District had developed an IEP for a first grade student. After the student exhibited some behavior and academic problems, school officials met with the student’s parents to discussing amending the IEP to address these problems. Over the parent’s objections, the school district amended the student’s IEP.

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January 06, 2014 11:00 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text

The Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDOE”) has issued guidance to public school districts regarding the new Prior Written Notice (“PWN”) provisions contained in the recently revised special education regulations which went into effect on July 1, 2013.  Under Section 10-76d-8(a)(5) of the regulations, a school district must provide parents with prior written notice whenever a PPT proposes to, or refuses to, initiate or change a child’s identification, evaluation, or educational placement or the provision of a free appropriate public education to a child with a disability.

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May 21, 2013 12:00 PM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
On May 17, 2013, the American Psychiatric Association announced the release of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ("DSM"), which had not been updated in twenty years. The DSM serves as the standard for the classification of mental health disorders used by mental health professionals; the manual includes diagnostic criteria for all mental health disorders recognized in the United States. The DSM also serves as an important tool for schools in determining a student's eligibility for special education services and school accommodations... read more
April 02, 2013 09:00 AM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
Connecticut's Legislative Regulations Review Committee recently approved the revisions to the Connecticut special education regulations. The revisions, which make extensive changes to the existing regulations, become effective on July 1, 2013. A full version of the revised regulations can be found here. read more
February 25, 2013 11:55 AM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
Effective March 18, 2013, school districts need only obtain one-time parental consent, and provide a specified annual notification, to access a parent's or student's public benefits or public insurance (i.e. Medicaid) to pay for services under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). The United States Department of Education ("DOE") announced this significant revision to the federal regulations on February 14, 2013, which revision the DOE explains will ensure that parents and students are informed of all of their legal protections regarding access to public benefits and insurance, and also address concerns from school districts that the prior requirements for obtaining consent for this access imposed unnecessary costs and administrative burdens. The DOE has already issued Non-Regulatory Guidance to address the revision. read more
January 17, 2013 03:15 PM | Posted by Jessica H. Stein | Full Text
The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) has recently clarified the responsibilities of school districts under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) with regard to sharing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) with paraprofessionals. The CSDE, through a brief sent to paraprofessional supervisors, informed school districts that they may share an IEP with a paraprofessional when the paraprofessional is important to supporting a student eligible for special education and when the paraprofessional needs to understand his/her role in implementing the student’s IEP. It would also be appropriate, according to the CDSE, for the district to allow supervising teachers and staff working with a special education student to disclose information contained in the student’s IEP to paraprofessionals working directly with the student.

The CDSE emphasized the importance of keeping paraprofessionals informed of the district’s expectations of them in the context of the student’s IEP.

Although paraprofessionals are not required members of an IEP team or PPT team under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts may determine whether it is appropriate or feasible for the paraprofessional to attend a child’s IEP team meeting. It remains important for district personnel to explain the district’s policy on paraprofessional PPT attendance to parents and school staff. If a paraprofessional is required by the IEP and is not attending the PPT meeting, the CDSE makes clear that it is the responsibility of the student’s teacher and the paraprofessional supervisor to communicate with the paraprofessional prior to the IEP team meeting.

The CDSE reiterated that student information is confidential and should only be shared with teachers and staff working directly with the student. School districts should ensure that any staff member who accesses a student’s IEP signs in on an access form indicating the reason for accessing the record. Additionally, school districts must inform paraprofessionals who type, collect and store education records that such written data is confidential and may not be shared with persons outside the educational team.   read more
November 05, 2012 09:53 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
In a decision involving review of three separate due process decisions, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that the appropriateness of an IEP is determined prospectively at the time the IEP is developed, and should not take into consideration retrospective testimony about services that the district might have offered and were not included in the IEP. See R.E. v. New York City Dep’t of Educ., 59 IDELR 241 (2nd Cir. September 20, 2012). In reaching this conclusion, however, the 2nd Circuit was clear that it was not rejecting the admissibility of all retrospective testimony, as would had been the case had it adopted a strict “four corners” rule proposed by the parents, but rather only such testimony that would “support a modification that is materially different from the IEP.” In its decision, the court was clear to note that it would continue to be appropriate and permissible to permit testimony offered to explain or justify what was in the IEP.

Each of three cases under review involved district proposed programs for students with autism which had been rejected by parents in favor of private school placements. In addition to the issue of the role of retrospective testimony, the 2nd Circuit also ruled on common questions related to procedural issues in these cases. One of these issues included the parents’ collective challenge to the district’s failure to identify the specific school where the IEP would be implemented at the time the IEP was drafted. On this issue, the 2nd Circuit ruled that an IEP’s failure to identify a specific school placement did not constitute a denial of FAPE, and that the district “may select the specific school without advice of the parents so long as it conforms to the program offered in the IEP.”

In addition, in each case there had been an allegation that the district had failed to comply with state regulations requiring an FBA and BIP, as well as the inclusion of parent counseling in the IEP. On these procedural issues, the 2nd Circuit ruled that while failing to include parent counseling/training was a procedural violation insufficient to deny FAPE, the failure to conduct the required FBA in such manner as dictated by regulations was substantive enough to constitute a denial of FAPE.

It is worth noting that in each of the underlying cases, an independent hearing officer had initially ruled in favor of the parents, thus granting reimbursement for their private placements. Following a state-level appeal, as well as subsequent appeals to the federal district court, the 2nd Circuit ultimately concluded that the school district had offered FAPE in two of the cases, but not the third. Thus, the IEPs developed by the New York City Department of Education offering placement within the public schools were deemed appropriate in two of the cases, and in the third the Department was ordered to reimburse the parents for the costs of private school placement. read more
July 31, 2012 09:22 AM | Posted by Anne H. Littlefield | Full Text

The General Assembly recently passed Public Act 12-173, a law amending procedural and substantive requirements related to the provision of educational services to special education students in Connecticut.

This Act requires boards of education to provide parents with an opportunity to meet with a school district staff member designated by such board prior a referral PPT at which the evaluations of a child who requires or may require special education are presented to the parent for the first time. The purpose of such meeting is to discuss the PPT process and any concerns such parent has regarding the child.

The Act also requires teacher certification preparation, in-service training, and professional development to include expanded instruction and training in implementing IEPs.

In addition to other requirements, the new law requires any IEP for a child identified as deaf or hearing impaired to include a language and communication plan developed by the PPT, and includes particular requirements for such communication plans. Click here for a copy of Public Act 12-173.

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June 28, 2012 09:32 AM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
Public Act 12-173, An Act Concerning Individualized Education Programs and Other Issues Relating to Special Education, became law on June 15, 2012.  Among other changes, the provisions of the Act require planning and placement teams to take additional steps to inform parents about special education procedures and evaluation results and require additional training for teachers.  A full copy of the Act can be accessed here. read more
June 21, 2012 01:33 PM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
On June 6, 2012, Governor Malloy signed into law Public Act 12-88, An Act Concerning the Reporting of Children Placed in Seclusion, which becomes effective on July 1, 2012. This Act amends slightly the reporting requirements for boards of education regarding the use of physical restraint and seclusion with students eligible for special education services or students awaiting an eligibility determination. The Act also mandates that the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) collect data from boards of education regarding the use of physical restraint and seclusion. read more
September 27, 2011 04:30 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text

The Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) has recently completed its analysis of comments to proposed revisions to the state’s special education regulations. Based on comments it has received, the SDE has also published revised Special Education Draft Regulations will be discussed at the October 5th State Board of Education meeting. It is anticipated that the final vote on the proposed revisions will take place at the November 2nd State Board of Education meeting.

For a copy of the analysis of comments, please click here.

For a copy of the special education draft regulations, please click here.

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August 22, 2011 03:15 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
The Second Circuit has reaffirmed a ruling that the parents of an 8th grade student with a specific learning disability were not entitled to reimbursement for their unilateral private placement at the Kildonan School, despite the fact that the district had violated procedural aspects of the IDEA, thus denying the student FAPE. read more
May 25, 2011 10:12 AM | Posted by Leander A. Dolphin | Full Text
On July 22, 2010, the Department of Justice issued regulations effective March 15, 2011 implementing Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), which applies to public entities, including schools. Pursuant to the new regulations, public entities must modify their policies to allow people with disabilities to use service animals. read more
May 13, 2011 11:58 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
On April 26, 2011, a federal district court in New York ruled that a student had stated a valid claim under the IDEA when she alleged that she had been denied FAPE due to unrelenting peer bullying and harassment. In an extensive decision, which included substantial discussion of “Bullying in America,” the district court concluded that the IDEA, like Title IX and Section 504, “place upon schools the affirmative duty to address bullying and harassment.” Specifically, the court articulated that “[w]hen responding to bullying incidents, which may affect the opportunities of a special education student to obtain an appropriate education, a school must take prompt remedial action. It must investigate if the harassment is reported to have occurred. If harassment is found. . . the school must take appropriate steps to prevent it in the future. . . . even if the misconduct is covered by its anti-bullying policy . . . .” In this case, the parents had alleged that the district’s failure to respond to repeated complaints of physical, verbal and psychological bullying by peers resulted in a denial of FAPE for their 12-year-old daughter, initially diagnosed as autistic and later identified as a student with a learning disability. The parents had unilaterally placed the student in a private school and filed for hearing, seeking reimbursement for their private school placement. See T.K. v. New York City Dep’t of Education, No. 10-752 (E.D. N.Y. Apr. 26, 2011). read more
March 22, 2011 02:40 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
Before expelling a student with a disability, schools must first conduct a manifestation determination to determine whether the student’s misconduct was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability. read more
March 09, 2011 08:27 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
On January 21, 2011, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (“OSEP”) issued a memorandum to all state directors of special education reiterating that school districts may not use the Response to Intervention (“RTI”) process to delay or deny timely initial evaluations for children suspected of having a disability. read more
January 04, 2011 09:36 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied a parents’ request for attorneys' fees in a case where the child had not yet been determined to be a “child with a disability,” notwithstanding the fact that the parents had prevailed, in part, at an administrative due process hearing. See T.B. v. Bryan Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 08-20201 (5th Cir. Dec. 20, 2010). read more
November 29, 2010 12:19 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
A recent federal district court decision highlights the importance of conducting thorough evaluations and considering multiple sources of information before exiting a student from special education, particularly a student previously found eligible under the category of specific learning disability. Breanne C. v. Southern York County Sch. Dist., 55 IDELR 3 (M.D. Pa. 2010).  read more
October 18, 2010 01:10 PM | Posted by Leander A. Dolphin | Full Text
The Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), has asked the GAO to examine the effectiveness of federal programs that exist to help students with disabilities transition from high school to college or the workforce. read more
October 05, 2010 11:16 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
In reversing a district court decision, the 7th Circuit concluded that a student with a rare genetic disorder was not eligible for special education and did not require specialized instruction under the IDEA. read more
September 07, 2010 08:02 AM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
An Alabama federal court recently held that the ten minute restraint of a student in a Rifton chair did not violate the student’s right to liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment. The student, diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, ADHD, impulse control disorder and a mood disorder, received special education services through an IEP. On the day in question, the student had hit and kicked numerous people. The student voluntarily sat in the Rifton chair -- as he had on other occasions -- after other forms of behavior management had been unsuccessful. The teacher strapped the lap and foot belts and moved the student into the hallway where she sat with him for under ten minutes. The student’s parent arrived to pick up the student from school during the few brief moments that the teacher stepped inside the classroom to retrieve the student’s belongings. read more
August 10, 2010 08:38 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
A federal district court in Pennsylvania is allowing a school district to proceed with its claim against a parent in which the district is seeking to recover attorney’s fees under the IDEA. Under the IDEA, a school district may recover attorney’s fees against an attorney of a parent, or a parent, if the parent’s complaint or judicial action is brought “for any improper purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the cost of litigation.” 34 C.F.R. 300.517(a)(1)(iii). read more
June 01, 2010 08:42 AM | Posted by Gwen J. Zittoun | Full Text
In an outrageous case of assault, and possibly bullying, several students at a New Hampshire high school were arrested for allegedly tattooing an indecent phrase and picture on the buttocks of a 14 year-old freshman without the freshman’s consent. The police explained in the warrant supporting the arrest of the students that the freshman victim, who has a learning disability and self-esteem issues, had been picked on frequently in school because of his disabilities. The perpetrators were charged with, among other things, assault and tattooing without a license. In Connecticut, while this incident would certainly constitute assault, it is unclear from the facts available whether it would constitute bullying, as that term is defined in our statutes. read more
February 09, 2010 10:38 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
In A.J. v. Board of Education, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently dismissed a parent's appeal of a hearing officer decision which concluded that the student did not qualify for special education services, despite his diagnosis of Asperger's. read more
December 21, 2009 12:22 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Forest Grove Sch. District v. T.A., 129 S. Ct 2484 (2009) in which it ruled that the IDEA does not categorically bar reimbursement to parents who unilaterally place their child in a private school even if that child had not previously received special education services. read more
December 21, 2009 12:11 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
A recent ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals highlights the importance of working with parents to ensure that they are able to attend their child's IEP meetings. In Drobinicki v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 109 LRP 73255 (9th Cir. 11/17/09, unpublished), the school district had unilaterally scheduled an IEP meeting and sent the notice of the scheduled meeting to the parents. read more
November 12, 2009 12:43 PM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
Finding that “there are few federal statutes as closely related” as IDEA and Section 504, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit determined that the two year statute of limitations under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) should also apply to claims brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Third Circuit has jurisdiction over New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and the Virgin Islands. It appears that no other federal circuit court has faced this issue. The Third Circuit’s decision could influence the resolution of similar issues arising in other circuits, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Connecticut.

A copy of the case, P.P. v. West Chester Area Sch. Dist., can be found here. read more
October 16, 2009 11:29 AM | Posted by Linda L. Yoder | Full Text
The Boston Office of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (which is the regional office covering Connecticut) has moved.  Districts should update their 504 handbooks, hearing forms and due process rights notifications to reflect the new address. Districts are required to provide parents with information about how to contact this agency and OCR is a good technical assistance resource for schools as well. read more
October 16, 2009 09:17 AM | Posted by Christopher A. Tracey | Full Text

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance regarding flexibility and waivers available to school districts, post-secondary institutions, and other grantees in the event of a H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak.  Included in this guidance is a discussion of how school districts may fulfill their obligations to provide special education and related services during a swine flu outbreak.  The guidance can be found here.

The U.S. Department of Education has also created a web site that acts as a clearinghouse for all of its information regarding the swine flu. The site can be found here.

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October 14, 2009 10:15 AM | Posted by Christopher A. Tracey; Susan C. Freedman | Full Text

The Connecticut State Department of Education has released its parental notice form regarding Restraint and Seclusion. This notice must be provided to parents at (1) the first Planning and Placement Team ("PPT") meeting following the child’s referral to special education and (2) if the child is already eligible, the child’s first PPT meeting after October 1, 2009. The notice must also be provided to parents at the first PPT at which the use of seclusion is included in their child’s IEP. It is recommended that the Notice be provided at each annual review of an IEP, along with the procedural safeguards notice.  The form can be found by clicking here.

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October 14, 2009 10:00 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
The U.S. District Court in Connecticut recently issued a decision allowing a school district to recover $15,972 in attorney’s fees against a parent attorney who continued to litigate an IDEA matter after the claim had become “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” read more
October 14, 2009 09:45 AM | Posted by Julie C. Fay | Full Text
The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently dismissed an IDEA claim of a noncustodial parent, based on the fact that he did not have any legal authority to make educational decisions on behalf of his disabled child. read more