One of the most important protections or “Procedural Safeguards” for students in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA is the maintenance of current educational placement, often called “stay put.” This protection is important to understand with school changes as a result of the coronavirus.
Unless the IEP team met to change your child’s placement as a result of the school closures and changes to instruction, your child’s placement is the same as it was on the last IEP. If your child received most of the instruction with general education peers with some special education in the same setting before the closures then that is the placement the school should provide.
See my previous blog post about least restrictive environment.
If the school has noticed a change in your child’s educational needs since the school closures, the school may want to meet to change your child’s IEP. If you agree with those changes, that is great. If you do not, filing a due process complaint is the best way to make sure the change does not go into effect.
Stay put protects students while a dispute about their IEP is pending. This protection only applies if a due process complaint has been filed. A parent saying they disagree with the changes in an IEP meeting and that they want stay put to apply is not enough. The parent must file a due process complaint to get the stay put protection.
The stay put right should apply automatically, meaning that a hearing officer does not have to order it. But it is a good idea to include in the due process complaint that you want the placement from the last IEP to be the stay put placement so there is no confusion.
The stay put provision prevents a school district from changing a student's placement during a “proceeding” under the IDEA unless the parents consent to the change. If a school district wants to change a student's placement with a new Individualized Education Program a parent can stop it with a due process complaint.
For example, if your child is placed in a private school by the district because of her disability. Later the district may want to return your child to a district school. If you disagree with this move, you can file a due process complaint. A hearing officer will then decide which placement your daughter needs. If you file the complaint before the new placement takes effect, your daughter can remain in the private school until the dispute is over.
With stay put, the district would have to continue paying for the private school throughout the case. If the new placement takes effect before the due process complaint is filed, the school might argue that the current placement is now the public school placement. The Arizona Department of Education has stated the stay put placement “is generally understood to mean the last agreed upon placement (and not the placement that is being challenged in due process).” https://www.azed.gov/specialeducation/placement-educational-placement But to avoid an argument about what is the placement, it is a good idea to get the due process complaint filed before the placement goes into effect.
How long does the protection last? As long as the proceeding lasts.
If you file a complaint that goes from a due process hearing all the way even up to the Supreme Court, your child would remain in the same placement. It is considered the same legal case unless you consented to a change in the placement. A ruling in the school’s favor does not change the student’s placement as long as the case is pending.
The stay put right is such an important protection for students with disabilities. If you disagree with a suggested change to your child’s IEP should contact a special education attorney.