State investigations: Districts continue to violate federal special education law

State investigators continue to uncover violations of federal special education law at school districts across Idaho as parents bring forward issues that are not being resolved at the local level. 

Many of the violations stem from school staff ignoring and/or misinforming parents, as was the case with dozens of investigations completed in 2023 — a trend that’s continuing in 2024. 

In the past three months, investigators reported that five school districts were out of compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures that students with disabilities are provided with a free and appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs. 

This year, state investigators have exposed systemic issues at Garden Valley School District, which EdNews previously covered, as well as violations at Fruitland, Minidoka, Payette, and Emmett school districts. EdNews obtained the investigation reports after filing a public records request.

Here’s what investigators found at the latter four. 

Fruitland: A parent spent 17 months trying to get the district to follow special education law before filing a complaint with the state

At the Fruitland School District, a parent spent nearly a year and a half asking school staff to evaluate their child for special education. 

According to federal special education law, if a parent suspects that their child may qualify for special education services and asks their school for an evaluation, the school must do so within 60 days. 

Child Find According to federal and state law, districts are required “to locate, identify, and evaluate students suspected of having disabilities” for those aged three through 21. The onus is on the district, not the parent. This practice is called Child Find. Source: IDE.

But Fruitland school staff repeatedly ignored the parent’s request for months on end, even after the parent accurately cited the state’s special education manual to show that their child was owed an evaluation. 

On top of that, staff members provided the parent with “inaccurate interpretations of state law and misleading information about the referral process, to support their decisions to deny (the evaluation requests).” 

And staff members discouraged the parent, saying that an evaluation “would be a very long process” and the student “would miss information in the general education classroom when provided with services in the special education classroom.”

Overall, the district was found out of compliance on both allegations. The state has mandated that the district staff undergo training, complete the student’s evaluation, and create a guidance document for district staff on their responsibilities according to federal special education law. 

Lyle Bayley, Fruitland’s superintendent, said the district is “working to correct all findings in the report,” including via a training scheduled later this month. 

“We are thankful for the report in that it will allow us to better serve our students and families,” he wrote in an email to EdNews. 

Minidoka: A parent’s concerns were ignored, and staff members did not consider academic data when making decisions

When a parent brought concerns to the district about whether their child’s IEP should be adjusted to better meet their needs, the district did not hold a formal meeting to consider changes and assess new information.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) An annual written record of an eligible individual’s special education and related services, describing the unique educational needs of the student and the manner in which those educational needs will be met. Source: IDE

District staff also failed to use data to analyze the student’s academic progress. They did not chart or graph the data until the parent filed the state complaint. It was also unclear whether the district was providing the student with the services promised in the IEP. 

The district was found out of compliance on two of three allegations and now must provide training to its staff and hold a formal meeting to consider changes to the IEP. 

Spencer Larsen, Minidoka’s superintendent, did not respond to an email sent Wednesday, April 3, or a message left with the district on Monday. 

Minidoka was also found out of compliance on seven of eight allegations under a separate complaint filed in 2023.

Payette: The district decided where to educate a student with disabilities without adequately involving the parent

According to the investigator, district staff determined where a student should learn, called the “placement,” and did so outside of an IEP meeting and without adequately involving the parent. The district also issued an ultimatum: that the student be educated in the location the district chose, or disenroll. 

There was no evidence that the district first considered changing the IEP or providing different accommodations before making the ultimatum. 

The district was found to be out of compliance on one of six allegations and now must provide training to its staff.

In an email to EdNews, Glen Croft, Payette’s superintendent, wrote that “the parent was involved and present in all our meetings.” 

Croft also said the district’s discussions about where to educate the student took place before the school year started and therefore “had no impact on the student’s education.”

“The student started the school year in the general education classroom with the additional one-on-one support that had been initially requested by the parent,” Croft wrote. 

He said the ultimatum mentioned in the report was actually the IEP team disagreeing with the parent on the child’s placement. Eventually, the district “reversed our position to follow the path the parent had wanted to take.”

Payette School District “pushed back” on the investigator’s finding that they pre-determined the child’s educational placement. 

Croft said district staff already took the two hours of training that the state mandated. 

Payette School District’s special education staff does a remarkable job in providing excellent interventions and support for our student’s on an IEP,” Croft wrote. “We have dedicated staff that go above and beyond for our students.”

Emmett: The district made a ‘unilateral decision’ about where to educate a student

When a student’s IEP team failed to reach a consensus about where the student should be educated, the district went ahead with a “unilateral decision” anyway. The district announced the placement with written notice, rather than as the result of an IEP meeting. 

The district was found to be out of compliance on two of nine allegations, and now must provide training to its staff. 

Craig Woods, Emmett’s superintendent, said he had no comment.

Further reading:

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

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.

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