State investigation: Garden Valley’s failure to provide appropriate special education is a systemic issue

The Garden Valley School District has largely failed to provide appropriate special education services for its students, according to the results of an investigation conducted by the Idaho Department of Education.

The investigation report, sent to involved parties Tuesday, sheds light on the dysfunction within the rural district north of Boise. A lack of qualified staff and training are among the myriad of issues that led to a number of students with disabilities not receiving the free appropriate public education guaranteed them under federal law. 

The IDE’s report is just the most recent rebuke of Garden Valley, which made headlines last fall for failing to appropriately educate two students with disabilities.  The reports called out the district for a number of improper practices, including secluding a student in a padded room that was formerly a utility closet.

This week’s report, which a parent shared with EdNews, demonstrates that the district’s failures were not isolated events — they are systemic. 

Andrew Branham, the parent of a student with disabilities in the district, said the report “exposes a bigger problem in Garden Valley and Idaho on the whole with (special education) laws.”

“What happened to our child and many children is inexcusable and we will use every legal tool in our arsenal to ensure it never happens again,” he wrote in an email. “Improvement to (Garden Valley School District) and Idaho is our ultimate goal.”

David Tucker, another parent of a Garden Valley student with disabilities, was not surprised by the investigation’s findings. “I’m hoping it opens the community’s eyes,” he said. “I am hopeful that things will actually change. We’re seeing movement … but the corruption starts at the top and has to be dealt with all the way through.”

The Garden Valley investigation was sparked by parent complaints, and comes after the federal government determined late last year that Idaho’s special education eligibility criteria were too stringent, violating federal law. The IDE is now tasked with revising the state’s special education manual. 

Garden Valley school leaders now have about a year to implement mandated changes and rebuild a broken special education program. 

Patrick Goff, Garden Valley’s superintendent, said he had no comment on the report, which found the district out of compliance on six of seven allegations. 

At Garden Valley, a pattern of nonfeasance robbed students with disabilities of an appropriate education

Essentially, district employees, overwhelmed by student need while understaffed and undertrained, sometimes failed to properly educate students with disabilities, the state investigation found. 

The investigation report, completed by Chynna Hirasaki, the IDE’s special education director, uncovered a troubling pattern of issues within the district, ranging from an extended resource room seemingly run by paraprofessionals rather than a certified special education teacher, to special education evaluations and plans that were rushed, incomplete, or even harmful rather than helpful. 

About 10% of Garden Valley students are receiving special education services this school year

Year Student enrollment Students receiving special education and related services Percentage of students receiving special education
2022-23 285-290 38 About 13%
2023-24 250-260 27 About 10-11%

There’s more. District contractors and staffers weren’t always available when needed, and often didn’t attend mandatory meetings regarding students with disabilities. 

Student progress toward IEP goals was not adequately tracked, documented, and/or shared, and parents weren’t always filled in on their students’ educational rights. 

Here are more detailed descriptions of the district’s wrongdoings, according to Hirasaki’s investigation:

Understaffing issues: A part-time superintendent, part-time special education director, special education teacher vacancy, and no physical therapist

  •  The district’s extended resource room has not had a certified special education teacher present since the end of October. The teacher, who also oversaw the preschool program, was initially on a leave of absence, but recently resigned.
  • The district’s superintendent works part-time and is on-site just one day a week. 
  • The district’s special education director works just five hours a week, or 20 hours per month. Part of that work is done virtually, so the director is only on-site 10 hours each month. 
  • A school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, and occupational therapist are only available as needed, or on a limited basis. 
  • There is no access to a physical therapist (needed to assess students’ gross motor skills).

The district has failed its federally required duties to actively seek out, identify, locate, and evaluate students who may need special education services:

  • The district’s federally required procedures to seek out students who need special education services are not written, resulting in “inconsistencies” from year to year. 
  • Instead of taking up to 60 days to collect data over time, as some special education assessments call for, the assessments were conducted over a few weeks or even a few days. Some of the assessments were completed in such “an atypical, expedited manner” that their results “may be suspect.” 
  • Some assessment plans were not individualized or comprehensive. For example, the report states that “students with emotional behavioral disorder often did not have their social, emotional and behavioral assessments thoroughly reviewed .. Similarly, students with Autism Spectrum Disorder did not have their social communication skills adequately addressed.” 
  • Experts and professionals required to attend special education evaluation meetings (like a psychologist or occupational therapist) were not always present. 
Demystifying Jargon:
An Individualized Education Program
identifies a student with disabilities needs and includes specific, measurable goals to “enable the student to make adequate progress in the general education curriculum.” A team of district staff, parents, and the student meets periodically to develop, review, and revise the plan.
A Behavior Intervention Plan determines what actions to take to improve or replace problematic student behavior.

The district failed to appropriately develop students’ Individualized Education Programs:

  • A full team was lacking at a “significant number” of IEP meetings. Those missing included general education teachers, a district representative, and related service providers. On top of that, no written excusals were signed, and no written feedback — considered “critical input” — was provided by the absent individuals. 
  • The IEPs were overly vague and did not provide adequate information about services, frequencies, locations, etc. 
  • Behavior Intervention Plans (or BIPs) were incomplete, failed to provide response plans, failed to align with IEP goals, or failed to address pertinent skills. In one case, the plan in place actually reinforced rather than resolved unwanted behavior. “For example, in a response plan addressing escape, the response provided for the removal of the student from the classroom, thus perpetuating the behavior pattern.”
  • District staff sometimes failed to follow a student’s IEP “when parents requested different services.”

A lack of resources, including certified special education staff, perhaps contributed to the district’s failure to place students with disabilities in regular educational environments as much as possible. But that’s not an excuse. 

  • Elementary students were removed from class to go to the resource room, missing out on core instruction “due to scheduling issues and not due to a student’s disability or need.” “A lack of resources … and administrative convenience do not excuse districts from meeting the (placement requirements) for students with disabilities,” Hirasaki found. 

The district’s progress reports for students with disabilities “failed to provide substantive information to parents regarding progress” toward IEP goals. 

  • Student data was not consistently collected and/or shared with parents.

The district failed to ensure that high school graduates with disabilities had access to and/or were are of their rights to continuing special education services. 

  • Idaho students have the right to continue receiving special education services through the semester they turn 21 or are no longer qualified for those services. The district failed to inform students and parents about this. 

The district was found to be out of compliance on all but one allegation — Hirasaki found that Garden Valley’s suspension protocols for students with disabilities were not a recurring issue.

Garden Valley has until March 2025 to resolve all issues

The IDE has mandated 10 specific steps district leaders must take within the next year to address its noncompliance. Those fixes pertain to:

Staffing and availability:

  • Update contracts to ensure service providers participate in special education services, as required.
  • Take action (demonstrating effort has been made) to hire a physical therapist and school psychologist.
  • Take action (demonstrating effort has been made) to fill the vacant special education teacher position.
  • Consider whether the special education director should spend more time in the district (above the current 20 hours/month). 
  • Determine whether increased access to a school psychologist and physical therapist is needed. 
  • Consider whether more certified or classified staff members need to be hired.

Training and procedure updates:

  • Review, draft and implement a procedure to meet federal requirements to proactively seek out students who may need special education services.
  • Provide special education training for all instructional staff.
  • Meet with the training coordinator to review the progress since training was received. 

Services for students:

  • Review the progress reports and data for all students and determine whether further action is needed. 
  • Inform parents of recent and upcoming graduates with disabilities that their students have the right to continue receiving special education services. 
  • Provide compensatory education for students impacted by the systemic issues. (Students who are denied or miss out on special education services are legally entitled to makeup services, according to EdWeek.)

By March 5, 2025, the district must provide the IDE with a letter of assurance signed by the superintendent and board chair, stating that issues are resolved and all students with disabilities are receiving a free, appropriate public education. 


Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday