Toolbox Tuesday: How progress affects placement…

The Toolbox features ten “tools” that schools can employ to properly serve those students with disabilities who engage in challenging behaviors.  Two of those involve moving a student to an MRE—a More Restrictive Environment.  We describe both of these tools as an Educational Change of Placement. Why two?  Because one is done the easy way, and one is done the hard way. Tool #2 is an Educational Change of Placement with Parental Agreement (easy way); Tool #3 is an Educational Change of Placement Without Parental Agreement (hard way).

The goal is to serve each student in the LRE—the least restrictive environment.  The school should propose a move to an MRE only when things are not going well.  That’s what happened with a student in Florence ISD.  The student frequently eloped or just did not show up, and often engaged in “escape-motivated” behaviors.  There were physical altercations with staff and at least a couple of uses of restraint.

Florence ISD proposed moving the student to what it called a Base Camp.  This was a self-contained setting designed to address these behaviors.  The parent agreed to it.  That would be the use of Tool #2.  However, a few months later, the parent sought an even more restrictive placement—a residential placement.  The school did not agree to that, and so….litigation.  The federal court’s decision in favor of the district nicely illustrates the connection between student progress and student placement.  If the student is not making progress, a move to an MRE might be the right thing. But if the student is making progress, the student is already in the LRE for that student.  In this case, both the hearing officer and the court held that the district complied with the law and provided FAPE.

The federal court addressed three issues that are worth mentioning here. 

Progress Reports.   It must be exasperating for educators to be accused of not providing progress reports when the school has carpet bombed the parent with information. Consider this:

For example, [the parent] was provided with reports on May 25, 2017, October 13, 2017, December 15, 2017, March 9, 2018, and May 29, 2018. She also received a report on [the student’s] progress during the individualized ESY services in summer 2017. Further, FISD maintained daily behavior report cards….

“Daily” report cards. But the parent’s lawyer claimed that the district did not report on progress. Sheesh. 

Least Restrictive Environment.  The parent’s lawyer argued that the district was not serving the student in the LRE.  That’s a tough argument to make when the parent is seeking an even more restrictive setting:

The Court notes here that the greatest obstacle to [the student’s] interaction with other students was his excessive absence from school, which deprived him of any interaction with his peers.  Further, [the parent] requested to place [the student] in a residential treatment center—which is the most restrictive placement possible and without question more restrictive than the Base Camp program she challenges.

Progress.   It was the lack of progress in the regular school setting that justified the move to the Base Camp.  It was the evidence of progress in the Base Camp placement that showed that a move to an even more restrictive setting was not called for.  While in Base Camp the student achieved good grades in classes and satisfactory scores on STAAR.  Behavioral problems continued but there was progress there as well, especially with regard to attendance.  Given that progress, the move to an even more restrictive environment was not called for.

It’s T.L. v. Florence ISD, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Texas based on the magistrate’s Report and Recommendation which can be found at 2021 WL 4434928.  Kelly Janes and Todd Clark, lawyers in our Austin office, helped the district out in this one. 


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Tomorrow: Student Advisory Council