In Avaras v. Clarkstown Central School District a New York district court found that a school district denied a student FAPE for 16 months by delaying his evaluation for services while providing response-to-intervention (“RTI”) services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). The student was a kindergarten student who struggled with reading, decoding, reading comprehension, and math concepts. The district began providing him with educational support services in the form of “academic intervention services” and RTI services. The student continued to struggle and showed little progress as he transitioned to first grade. It was not until the end of his first grade year that the student was appropriately evaluated for special education services.
The New York District Court found that the failure to identify and evaluate the student for special education services violated the “child find” provision of IDEA; IDEA creates an affirmative duty to identify, locate, and evaluate children who are suspected of having a learning disability. The court first found that the district was aware that the student may be eligible for special education because he failed to show progress as he transitioned into first grade. The fact that the district decided to continue his RTI services in first grade showed that it was aware he was not progressing and was continuing to show learning difficulties. The court determined that the district should have evaluated the student after his first RTI cycle in the beginning of his first grade year when he failed to show any progress despite the RTI services. Because the student was not evaluated until the end of this first grade year, he was denied FAPE due to the district’s failure to adequately evaluate him for special education.
Effectively, RTI services are not special education services, and the district failed in its duty to locate and evaluate students who potentially qualify for special education services by continuing the RTI services without evaluating the student further.