Change in Location Can Be A Change in Placement

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     Some school districts and their counsel assert that, under the IDEA, a change in location of service delivery is not a change in placement if the IEP services remain the same. If the location change is not a change in placement, the service location can be changed without parent input or an IEP meeting. That may sometimes be the case, but there are many instances in which IEP services may generally remain the same but a change in location will affect the service delivery so that it is a change in placement. For example, students with disabilities must attend the school they would attend if they did not have a disability, unless the IEP requires otherwise. Thus, placing a student with a disability in a school they would not attend if they did not have a disability is an IEP team decision and changing a student's placement to a school they would not attend if they did not have a disability is an IEP team decision. Whether the change in location is a change in placement turns on the facts of the specific situation.

     For example, in Valentin v School District of Philadelphia, 113 LRP 7167 (E.D. Pa 02/19/13), the court ruled that a district's practice of unilaterally transferring students with autism between centralized grade-level programs located in different schools violated the IDEA.  The school district had a practice of  unilaterally changing the building assignment for students with autism as the students changed grade levels.  The new building assignment decision was made without an IEP meeting or parent input. Moreover, parents were not provided written notice of the location change and parents were not notified of the change in location until after the decision had been made. The school district argued that it was just changing the grade level and physical location where IEP services would be delivered, which is not a change in placement.

     The court, however, noted that children with autism typically have difficulty with transitions and changes in routine and a change in the physical location of services would likely be far more traumatic for students with autism than it would for students with other disabilities. The court concluded that under the particular facts of the case, transferring students with autism to a separate school building in the school district constitutes a change in their educational placement under the IDEA. Thus, the court ordered the school district to follow the IDEA's placement procedures, including parent participation and appropriate notice, before transferring students with autism to new schools.