Serving Students with Disabilities in ALE

The following guidelines are intended to provide an overview of school district responsibilities related to ensuring that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in ALE programs and that those students enrolled in ALE programs continue to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), as required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and chapters 28A.642 RCW and 392-190 WAC.

State and federal laws prohibit discrimination in Washington public schools on the basis of disability, including in ALE programs (WAC 392-121-182(6)(a), chapter 28A.642 RCW, chapter 392-190 WAC, Section 504, 34 CFR Part 104). School districts that offer ALE programs must ensure that they are accessible to all students, including students with disabilities. (WAC 392-121-182(6)(a)).

Recruitment

When announcing the availability of an ALE program or conducting public outreach and recruitment, a public school district must act to ensure that all students, including students with disabilities, are notified of the opportunity to participate in the ALE program.

Recruitment materials used by ALE programs on the internet, in newspapers, and in other online or written communications, should include the district’s nondiscrimination statement, making clear that the program does not discriminate against students on the basis of sex, creed, religion, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, veteran or military status, disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability in admission or treatment in the program.

Recruitment materials should include the contact information for the person(s) responsible for coordinating the ALE program’s efforts to comply with the IDEA, Section 504, and Title II.

The recruitment materials should also make clear that if the student does not reside in the district that is offering the ALE program and wants to attend this program, Washington’s nonresident transfer procedures must be followed, unless the ALE program can arrange to serve the student through an Interdistrict Agreement with the resident school district (both options are described in more detail below.)

Admission

Communication with Parents

The parents of students with disabilities must be provided the same access to ALE programs as parents of students without disabilities. An ALE program may not reject an application solely because of the student’s eligibility for special education and related services, or eligibility under Section 504.

Districts must make sure that the application process for admission into the ALE program is clear and understandable to all parents and does not discriminate against students based on disability. In particular, for ALE programs that serve nonresident students, the process for admission into the district should inform parents that a student must remain in their district of residence until (1) the nonresident district that offers the ALE program accepts the student, and (2) the resident district releases the student. (See Nonresident Choice Transfer Procedures described below.)

Eligibility Criteria

When considering the admission of a student into any ALE program, the district must provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to meet any appropriate minimum eligibility criteria for admission, consistent with the mission of the ALE program and in compliance with IDEA, Section 504, and Title II. Districts may not condition enrollment of a student with a disability on forgoing rights she or he has under these laws and programs. A district, for example, may not ask a parent to revoke consent for continued special education services as a condition of admission. Moreover, an online ALE program should not use classroom size as a basis for denying admission if the online program does not have the same capacity limited as a physical bricks-and-mortar classroom.A district that operates an ALE program may, however, develop eligibility criteria for admission as long as the criteria are:

  1. Neutral on their face with respect to disability;
  2. Educationally justified;
  3. Applied equally to both students with and without disabilities alike; and
  4. Subject to modification when necessary to avoid discriminating against a student on the basis of disability, unless the district can demonstrate that making the modification to the criteria would fundamentally alter the nature of its ALE program.

A district’s online ALE program, for example, may establish specific reading, writing, and math achievement criteria for admission to its online school as long as the criteria are justified by the nature of its online ALE program and applied equally to all applicants. Such criteria must also be subject to modification when necessary to avoid discriminating against a student on the basis of disability, unless the district can demonstrate that making the modification would fundamentally alter the nature of its online ALE program.

Overall, chapter 392-121-182 (6)(a) WAC requires school districts that offer any ALE programs to ensure that the programs are accessible to all students, including students with disabilities, and requires the district to provide the ALE for students eligible for special education in accordance with chapter 392-172A WAC.

Nonresident Choice Transfer Procedures

When parents apply for their student’s admission into an ALE program offered by a school district and the student is not a resident of that district, a parent needs to submit a Choice Transfer request. A Choice Transfer request is a request to have the student released by their resident district and accepted by the nonresident district under Washington’s nonresident transfer rules, also known as Choice Transfer procedures (see chapter 392-137 WAC).

For online ALE programs: Parents enrolling a student in an online school program will start the process by making the Choice Transfer request to the resident school district. The resident school district will then use the Standard Choice Transfer System to submit the request to the nonresident school district.

For non-online ALE programs: If the parent is seeking to enroll a student in a non-online school program, the Choice Transfer procedure may vary. It is advisable for parents to contact the ALE program in which they hope to enroll before starting the transfer process to verify that the ALE program is accepting new students and to receive instructions on how to make the transfer request.

In all cases, until a student is accepted by the nonresident district offering the ALE program, the student remains a resident of her or his district, even if that district has allowed for the student’s release. Once the nonresident district offering the ALE program has accepted the student and the student’s resident district has released the student, the student is ready to begin the ALE program in the new school district on the specified begin date.

If either the resident or nonresident district does not act on a parent’s request for release or for acceptance within 45 days, it is deemed to be denied. State law provides an appeal process if the transfer is denied (see Appeals discussed below).

Nonresident districts reviewing applications for admission to an ALE program do so based on the acceptance and rejection standards stated in district policy that apply equally to all students. Once a Choice Transfer request is initiated, the nonresident district may access student information in the Student Records Exchange (SRX) system to determine if the student meets the acceptance standards. Though a student’s special education or 504 status will be included in the SRX information, this information should not be the basis of a decision to accept or deny the transfer request. Moreover, once a student is enrolled within the nonresident district, the district may not threaten to rescind approval of the student’s Choice Transfer as a means of discouraging or avoiding a referral to evaluate a student for possible Section 504 or special education eligibility.

The primary alternative to the Choice Transfer process, an Interdistrict Agreement, is discussed at the end of this section.Appeals

Parents may appeal any denial of acceptance or transfer rescindment by a nonresident district. Parents may likewise appeal the denial of release by a resident district. Each district may have procedures for processing such denials. If the parent is dissatisfied with the district’s decision regarding their appeal, the parent may submit an appeal request to OSPI to conduct a formal adjudicative hearing to resolve the dispute. The student should attend school in their resident district while any appeal is pending.

Interdistrict Agreements

A district operating an ALE program also has the option of entering into an Interdistrict Agreement with the student’s resident district. The Interdistrict Agreement will outline which courses and services will be provided by the resident district, and which courses and services will be provided by the nonresident district’s ALE program. If a resident district agrees to this type of arrangement, it remains the student’s district of residence. Districts are not required to enter into an Interdistrict Agreement; it is a wholly voluntary process. Parents do not have the right to appeal a district’s refusal to enter into an Interdistrict Agreement.

The Standard Choice Transfer System is available for districts to use to process Interdistrict Agreements.

The parent will make a request to the student’s resident district to start the Interdistrict Agreement process with the nonresident district. Once an Interdistrict Agreement is requested, the nonresident district may access student information in the Student Records Exchange (SRX) system to determine if the student meets the acceptance standards. Though a student’s special education or 504 status will be included in the SRX information, this information should not be the basis of a decision to accept or deny the transfer request.

Unless otherwise stated in the terms of the Interdistrict Agreement, the student’s resident district retains responsibility for the design, supervision, and monitoring of special education services and related services under IDEA and Section 504, including those services or accommodations to be provided by the nonresident district’s ALE program.

If the student’s needs require additional or different services, the Interdistrict Agreement must be amended or a new agreement put in place. An amendment or new agreement both require a parent request and the approval of both school districts.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

School districts must follow all requirements related to identification, evaluation, placement, and the provision of a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) under the IDEA and Section 504 for eligible students in their ALE programs.

Under Section 504, a school district’s ALE program is required to provide a FAPE to qualified students in the program who have a disability. This requirement consists of any accommodation, related aids, or services that are necessary for the student to receive a FAPE through the ALE program. The purpose of a Section 504 plan is to allow the student with a disability to equally benefit from the ALE program. The aids, accommodation, and/or services must be provided at public expense and under public supervision.

A school district must also make a FAPE available to every student between the ages of three and 21 who has been determined eligible for special education services under the IDEA. For a student who is eligible for special education, a FAPE consists of instruction that is specifically designed to meet the needs of a student with a disability, along with whatever support services are necessary to permit the student to benefit from that instruction. The instruction and support services must be provided at public expense and under public supervision. If the needs of a student eligible for special education can be met in the ALE program with special education, related services, and additional aids and supports, then the district must provide a FAPE to the student in the ALE program in accordance with chapter 392-172A WAC.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Special education is provided in conformance with an IEP designed to meet the student’s unique needs. A student’s IEP should be taken into consideration when developing a Written Student Learning Plan (WSLP) for the student’s ALE course(s). The learning requirements outlined within the student’s WSLP should be aligned with the student’s needs and annual goals identified in the IEP. The district must take steps to ensure that the obligations contained within each of these documents are being met. Meeting such obligations may require the district’s ALE program to provide accommodations, related aids, services, and additional progress monitoring and reporting.

For students accepted into a district’s ALE program through the nonresident transfer process, the nonresident district is legally responsible for providing special education and related aids and services to the student. The nonresident district should review the student’s educational records, including evaluations and IEPs, to determine how services will be provided. Given the unique nature of ALE programs, the IEP may need to be revised. In some cases, the previous IEP may have lapsed and the nonresident district providing the ALE program will need to develop a current IEP in accordance with chapter 392-172A WAC.

Students who are determined eligible for special education and have an IEP do not need to have a separate Section 504 plan. Any accommodations, related aids, or services that would be necessary for the student under Section 504 should be considered by the IEP team and included in the student’s IEP.

“Related services” means those developmental, corrective, and other supportive services required to assist a student in benefitting from special education. There is no exhaustive list of related services. If the student needs related services under Section 504, then they will be determined by the Section 504 team and listed in the student’s Section 504 plan. Likewise, if the student needs related services under IDEA, then they will be determined by the IEP team and listed in the student’s IEP. In both instances, the district providing the ALE program must determine how related services will be delivered.

For nonresident transfer students, some methods for delivering related services may include:

  • Contracting with the student’s resident district;
  • Contracting with another district that is located close to the student’s physical location; or
  • Contracting with private providers, or determining whether some services can be provided using teletherapy.

School district administrators and school boards should be aware of these requirements when making decisions about operating ALE programs, particularly online ALE programs.

Staff Training and Qualifications

A district must ensure that the provision of special education within an ALE program is designed, supervised, monitored, and evaluated by the appropriate school district personnel in accordance with chapter 392-172A-02090 WAC. For online ALE programs specifically, any online course teachers and/or school-based support staff involved in the provision of special education must be supervised by a special education teacher and possess the skills and knowledge necessary to meet the student’s needs.

Procedural Safeguards

All parents/guardians of students enrolled in any ALE program must be notified of the procedural safeguards provided by Section 504 and the IDEA concerning the district’s obligation to identify and evaluate eligible students and to provide a FAPE.

OSPI has the authority to monitor school district compliance with nondiscrimination laws, including Section 504 and chapters 28A.642 RCW and 392-190 WAC. Complaints alleging discrimination by a district ALE program must be addressed using the procedures set forth in chapter 392-190 WAC. Parents/guardians also have the right to file a complaint of discrimination with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), or to file a complaint in federal court. This information should be included in the school district’s nondiscrimination procedure.

There are also three dispute resolution options available under the IDEA administered by OSPI; mediation, citizen complaints, and impartial due process hearings. These three options can address concerns about the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and provision of a FAPE to a student eligible for special education. The IDEA requires schools to provide the parents/guardians of a student who is eligible for or referred for special education with a notice containing a full explanation of the rights available to them, including these dispute resolution options.

Last update: March 19, 2014.