Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I had a weird experience the other day that I need to share with you. A family new to the district came by to enroll their 4th grade daughter, and they stopped in to see me. I was delighted to welcome the newcomer to our happy little school. However, I was not happy to see her “best friend,” Woofy. I politely told the family that we do not allow dogs in our school, but they pushed back immediately. “Woofy,” the dad said, “is more than a dog, much more. Woofy is a service animal who provides emotional support for our daughter.”

I did my best to be polite, but Woofy was out of control, running around my office, sniffing everything in sight, and even licking my face. “Isn’t he great?” the dad asked rhetorically. “He brings such joy and comfort to our little girl.”

I admit that I am a cat person, but I am not anti-dog per se. However, I can’t imagine letting this “Woofy” creature into my school. Can I tell the family that Woofy belongs in the dog house? Please email me your answer, because the daughter is starting school tomorrow.

Thank you,
Dog Be Gone

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On March 23, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an important precedential opinion in Mr. P. & Mrs. P. v. West Hartford Board of Education, 885 F.3d 735, (2d Cir. 2018). In its decision, the Second Circuit held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017), did not heighten the standard to assess whether a school district offered a student an individualized education program (“IEP”) that provided a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in jurisdictions covered by the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York and Vermont).   The Second Circuit also ruled in favor of the school district, West Hartford, on all other issues, including numerous procedural claims, and rejected the parents’ request for a private transition program similar to the one offered by the district.

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On March 27, 2018, the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) issued the long-awaited and much-anticipated Guidelines Regarding Independent Educational Evaluations at Public Expense and In-School Observations. These Guidelines are the result of months of study, review and participation by a Task Force and then an Advisory Work Group, including consultants within the SDE, parent advocates, school district personnel, educators, advisors and others. The Guidelines clarify the existing obligations of school districts with respect to independent educational evaluations (IEEs) pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Guidelines replace the SDE’s guidance memorandum titled Guidance Regarding Independent Educational Evaluations issued on June 9, 2015 and the memorandum titled Guidance Regarding Independent Educational Evaluations dated May 3, 2017. The Guidelines are the SDE’s interpretation of the applicable legal requirements for IEEs, including guidance letters from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Special Education Program (OSEP), and are not a replacement of the IDEA and its implementing regulations. Importantly, the new Guidelines seek to track the federal regulatory requirements and administrative guidance for IEEs.


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Anne Littlefield discusses steps to follow if a manifestation determination review reveals a substantial relationship between a student’s misbehavior and his or her disability. This article originally appeared in SpecialEdConnection®.

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A middle school student with ADHD is suspended for 12 days after getting into a fight in the cafeteria. The student’s IEP team conducts a manifestation determination review and concludes that the student’s problem behavior was a manifestation of his disability. What must the district do next?

Under the IDEA, if a student’s behavior is found to be unrelated to her disability, then the district may impose the same consequences as it would for a student without a disability. However, if an MDR reveals that the student’s misbehavior was caused by or had a direct and substantial relationship to the student’s disability or was the direct result of the district’s failure to implement the student’s IEP, then the district must take the steps outlined below.

1. Examine the student’s behavior. Conduct a functional behavioral assessment (unless the district conducted an FBA before the behavior that resulted in the disciplinary removal) and implement a behavioral intervention plan for the student.

If a BIP has already been developed, review it and modify it as necessary to address the student’s behavior. 34 CFR 300.530 (f).

Closely examine the student’s environment and disability-related needs during the FBA, recommended Anne Littlefield, a school attorney with Shipman & Goodwin LLP in Hartford, Conn.

“We’re looking for what triggers the behavior — the conditions that lead to the behavioral incident,” she said. Such triggers might include time of day, unstructured settings, or certain activities, she said. Consider: Is the student trying to get out of a non-preferred activity? Is there a sensory issue at play?

Then, determine what strategies and supports can be put in place to prevent the student from engaging in those behaviors, Littlefield said. Update the behavioral goals and objectives section of the student’s IEP to reflect the new plan.
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This is an updated version of the original post, Legislature Revises Physical Restraint and Seclusion Training Requirements, published on June 28, 2017.

Earlier this
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After an extensive interview and hiring process, the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”), Bureau of Special Education, released last week the list of new mediators and current due process hearing officers.  The hiring of new mediators was prompted by a directive from the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) that mediators used pursuant to the procedures required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) not be employees of the CSDE.  Thus, the list of mediators includes ten individuals, all of whom are independent contractors with the CSDE and new to the role of special education mediator.  The new mediators have been transitioning into their roles during the summer months; as of September 1, 2017, CSDE employees will no longer be conducting mediations.
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Dome of State House in Hartford, ConnecticutEarlier this month, the General Assembly passed House Bill 7276, now Public Act 17-220, which contains a number of provisions aimed at providing “mandate relief” to boards of education.  Section 5 of Public Act 17-220, effective July 1, 2017, makes significant changes to the physical restraint and seclusion training requirements that were enacted as part of Public Act 15-141 (now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-236b).  While this new law must still must be signed by the Governor to become law, school districts may wish to consider these revisions as they plan for staff professional development.
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School classroom in Japanese high schoolIEPs Must Be Reasonably Calculated to Enable Appropriate Progress in Light of Child’s Circumstances

For the first time in nearly 35 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has addressed the legal standard by which courts determine whether a school district has provided a student with a disability a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) through an individualized education program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Specifically, in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, No. 15-827 (U.S. March 22, 2017), the Court held in a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts that, “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Id. at 11 (slip op.).
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