Colorado District's Failure to Evaluate Student While Implementing RTI Violated 504

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In Harrison (CO) School District Two, 57 IDELR 295 (OCR 2011),  the Office for Civil Rights determined that implementing RTI strategies did not offset the school district's failure to timely evaluate and reevaluate a student with ADHD. The student's mother enrolled the student in the district for the 2008-09 school year and made it clear the student had ADHD. Instead of evaluating the student for special education eligibility, the school district implemented RTI strategies. The following school year, the mother repeatedly mentioned the child's ADHD and when the student's behavior escalated, she requested an evaluation for special education eligibility. Instead of evaluating the student, the district intensified the RTI strategies that were already in place. Unfortunately, the student received ten suspensions for his behavior. The district did finally complete an IEP for the student in June 2010. The mother filed a OCR complaint alleging the district's denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in failing to timely evaluate her son and significantly changing his placement before conducting a manifestation determination review.

 Responding to the school district's position that it had used RTI throughout the student's enrollment, OCR pointed out that RTI does not justify delaying or denying the evaluation of a student with a disability who is believed to need special education or related services. Moreover, students who may need special education should be evaluated in accordance with 34 CFR 104.35(a) before initial placement or a significant change in placement is determined. The OCR pointed out that this student's behavior was consistent with ADHD, the district's RTI strategies were not effective, and the student's behavior escalated. The frequency and number of suspensions constituted a significant change in placement and the district changed his placement without considering whether his ADHD related to his misconduct. Thus, the student was denied FAPE.

In order to resolve the complaint, the school district agreed to a Resolution Agreement with OCR. The agreement required, among other things, that the district determine the extent to which the student was denied an appropriate education and to determine whether and what compensatory services the student is due to make up for the loss of an appropriate education. Additionally, the school district agreed to conduct 504 training for school staff, including the individuals responsible for implementing this student's 504 Plan or IEP during the 2009-2010 school year and school employees present at the student's 504 and IEP meetings during the 2009-2010 school year.