Can an IEP team decide to provide a student with instruction at home only if the student’s medical doctor provides a medical order for instruction at home?
No. Homebound instruction under State law and home-based instruction under the IDEA are not the same thing. Arizona law identifies “homebound” as a funding category that can be used to provide instruction to a student whose doctor has certified that the student is unable to attend regular classes due to illness, disease, accident or other health condition “for a period of not less than three school months.” [A.R.S. § 15-901(A)(14)] The statute goes on to state that homebound services can also be provided to a student with a chronic or acute health problem whose doctor certifies that the student is “unable to attend regular classes for intermittent periods of time totaling three school months during a school year.” [Id.] The regulations that implement the IDEA require schools to ensure the availability of a continuum of alternative placements to meet the needs of children with disabilities. [34 C.F.R. § 300.115(a)] The continuum must include, among other things, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions. [Id. at subsection (b)] Placement decisions are made by a child’s IEP team; medical documentation is not required for the IEP team to determine that instruction in the home is appropriate for the child.
Can parents insist on a change in placement to a private school if they feel the current school’s placement is inappropriate?
The federal regulations that implement the IDEA require schools to afford the parents of a child with a disability an opportunity to participate in meetings that concern the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to their child. [34 C.F.R. § 300.501(b)] Further, the regulations specify that schools are required to ensure that a parent is a member of any group that makes decisions regarding a child’s educational placement. [Id. at subsection (c)] In its Letter to Burton, the United States Department of Education/Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) explains that the “[Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)] does not permit a placement decision to be based solely on parent preference; however, it is one factor that a public agency may consider in making a placement decision.” [17 IDELR 1182; 17 LRP 1339 (OSEP 1991)] The spirit behind the regulations is one of collaboration, and IEP teams are encouraged to make decisions by consensus. However, when consensus cannot be reached, the school is charged with making a decision, providing the parents written notice of the decision and the reason or reasons for the decision, and informing the parents of their right to challenge the decision by requesting mediation or a due process hearing. The regulations are clear that disagreements between parents and schools about the availability of an appropriate program for the child, and questions about financial reimbursement for a parent’s unilateral private school placement, are subject to the due process procedures. [34 C.F.R. § 300.148(c)].
What are schools required to do if an IEP team determines a particular educational placement is needed that the school does not have?
Public schools, including charter schools, “must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services.” [34 C.F.R. § 300.115(a)] This continuum of educational placements must include “instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions.” [Id.] “Although the [IDEA] does not require that each school building in an LEA be able to provide all the special education and related services for all types and severities of disabilities, the [school] has an obligation to make available a full continuum of alternative placement options that maximize opportunities for its children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled peers to the extent appropriate. In all cases, placement decisions must be individually determined on the basis of the child’s abilities and needs and each child’s IEP, and not solely on factors such as category of disability, severity of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space, or administrative convenience.” [34 C.F.R. Part 300, Analysis of Comments and Changes, Subpart B–State Eligibility, Federal Register, Vol.71, No. 156, p. 46588 (August 2006)] Therefore, if a school does not have the educational placement needed by a particular child, it can pay tuition to send the student to a school that has the appropriate placement, it can contract services out to a vendor, or it can create an appropriate program.
What exactly is the stay-put placement?
Although the IDEA does not specifically define “stay put,” the regulations are clear that during the pendency of a due process hearing and any subsequent appeals, the child must remain in his or her current educational placement, unless the parent and the school agree otherwise. [34 C.F.R. § 300.518(a)] “Current educational placement” is generally understood to mean the last agreed upon placement (and not the placement that is being challenged in due process). The regulations further clarify that if a hearing officer in a due process hearing agrees with the child’s parents that a change of placement is appropriate, that placement must be treated as an agreement between the school and the parents during any subsequent appeals. [Id. at subsection (d)]