Father's Girlfriend Did Not Have Authority to Cancel Boy's 504 Plan

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     Some cases have more interesting facts than others. In Chicago (IL) Public Schools, 56 IDELR 54 (OCR July 2, 2010), the school district violated Section 504 when it discontinued a sixth-grader's 504 plan at the request of the father's girlfriend and without informing the father or conducting an evaluation. The student has ADD and ADHD and had a 504 Plan developed in April 2007 that provided a variety of accommodations to ensure his equal access to the district's educational program. The 504 Plan was signed by the father and his girlfriend, who was living with the father at that time. Although the girlfriend was not the student's mother, she signed the 504 Plan on a signature line designated for the mother. Two years later, in April 2009, because he was concerned  about his son's school work, the father called the school district and asked whether his son had been receiving the accommodations required on his 504 Plan. The father was surprised to learn that the school district had discontinued  the 504 Plan in April 2008 at his girlfriend's request.

     The school explained that in April 2008 the girlfriend called the school nurse and asked her to terminate the 504 services being provided to the student. At that time, the girlfriend stated that she felt the student was doing fine in his classes and no longer needed the accommodations. The district did not convene a meeting, conduct an evaluation, or notify the father of his rights and procedural safeguards before ceasing the 504 services. The father filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights alleging the 504 Plan had been illegally terminated.

     The Office for Civil Rights determined the school district should not have terminated the 504 Plan at the request of the girlfriend and without notifying the father. Even though the girlfriend "held herself out" as the student's parent, there was nothing in the student's file indicating she fit that definition under Illinois state law. Illinois state law referred to the IDEA definition of parent. The IDEA provides that the biological or adoptive parent is presumed the parent unless they lack the authority to make educational decisions for the child. Although the girlfriend attended the 504 planning meeting and filled in her name on "emergency contact" forms as the mother, she was not, in fact, the child's parent. Thus, the school district was required to presume the father was the parent and was the only person authorised to make educational decisions.

     To resolve the father's complaint, the school district agreed to provide training to school staff regarding the 504 procedural safeguards, including the requirements to notify parents of their rights under Section 504. Moreover, the district agreed to determine if the student was denied a free appropriate education during the time the 504 Plan was not in effect and, if so, what compensatory services might be necessary to make up for the educational loss. There is no mention of the outcome of the father's relationship with the girlfriend.