ST. ANSGAR | The guardians of a St. Ansgar student with special needs have filed a complaint with the state alleging she did not receive free and appropriate public education during the fall 2018 semester.
Michael Esdohr and Sue Shires, parents of Elizabeth Esdohr, and Brenda Esdohr, Elizabeth's stepmother, filed the due process complaint against the St. Ansgar School District and the Central Rivers Area Education Agency with the Iowa Department of Education on Monday.
Elizabeth Esdohr, 21, who has developmental delay and a mild intellectual disability, did not have an individual education program (IEP) for most of the 2018 fall semester, according to the complaint.
An IEP is a document developed for each public school student who needs special education.
The state of Iowa is required to provide free public education to those with disabilities from birth to age 21.
If students turn 21 during a school year, they must be allowed to finish the remainder of the year if they choose to do so, according to information from the Iowa Department of Education's website.
Elizabeth Esdohr turned 21 on Sept. 25, 2018.
During the 2017-18 school year, she attended the SAVE program at Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg through her IEP.
SAVE, like similar programs at other community colleges, is meant to fill gaps in instruction for special education students ages 18-21.
Elizabeth's IEP team met on Feb. 15, 2018, to write a new IEP for her.
During the meeting, the Esdorhs and Shires allegedly were told that since Elizabeth was on track to meet her goals by the end of the semester, her IEP would be terminated.
Upon hearing this, they were "astounded and bewildered," the complaint states.
Jody Gray, the superintendent and special education director for the St. Ansgar School District, allegedly told Elizabeth's guardians she was not aware they believed Elizabeth had unmet needs requiring her to attend SAVE for two years rather than just one.
"When Elizabeth realized that public agencies were set on terminating her education, she got up and left the room in tears," the complaint states.
Over the next nine months, Elizabeth's IEP team met repeatedly.
The complaint states representatives from the Central Rivers AEA did not attend three of the meetings, even though Elizabeth lives in that AEA district.
During a meeting on March 23, 2018, the team identified several unmet needs, such as in math and reading, which would warrant her remaining eligible for special education, according to the complaint.
On June 1 the school district validated and archived an IEP for Elizabeth dated May 15, the complaint states.
The IEP stated she would stay in the dorm and have study time in the SAVE room where she could ask for assistance, according to the complaint.
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Elizabeth was required to register for fall classes at Iowa Lakes in August. However, the IEP team had made no final decision about her course of study before that date, according to the complaint.
"Effectively, Elizabeth had no IEP because the IEP as written could not be implemented," the complaint states.
Elizabeth had to be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours to be eligible to live in student housing.
Elizabeth and her guardians chose what classes she would attend based on an earlier recommendation by the IEP team that early childhood education classes would be appropriate for her to meet her reading goal.
Iowa Lakes required them to agree to pay tuition and room and board, which cost $6,047.
The Esdohrs and Shires claim at that time no one told them the St. Ansgar School District would not pay for her classes.
The IEP team met a few days after Elizabeth registered for the fall semester.
An attorney for the school district and the AEA, who had not been present at previous IEP meetings, stated the school district would not pay for Elizabeth's courses even if they supported her IEP goals, according to the complaint.
However, a draft of a new IEP dated Sept. 14 stated the school district would cover the cost of developmental courses in reading, writing and math, as well as room and board as the distance from St. Ansgar to Emmetsburg was too great for Elizabeth to travel each day.
Iowa Lakes required Elizabeth to pay tuition before Sept. 28 to continue attending classes. She used her saving to purchase books and pay for her classes, according to the complaint.
The school district allegedly agreed to reimburse her for these payments, as well as the expense of a tutor, once her IEP was finalized and in place.
The complaint states Elizabeth had been attending classes for more than a month with no support through the SAVE program, so she hired a tutor to help make up for it.
Brenda Esdohr told the AEA in October that her stepdaughter was failing one of her classes.
The school district and the AEA did not complete a final version of an IEP that allowed her to participate in SAVE until Nov. 4, according to the complaint. Final exams began on Dec. 6.
Elizabeth graduated from the Iowa Lakes Four Plus program on May 8, and will also receive a diploma from the St. Ansgar School District, according to the complaint.
Her father, mother and stepmother are asking the AEA and the school district to provide Elizabeth with compensatory special education services through the SAVE program for the fall 2019 semester at Iowa Lakes and pay for her tuition, fees, books, and room and board.
They also want Elizabeth to be reimbursed for her tuition, books and tutor fees for the 2018 fall semester at Iowa Lakes.
"Without having special education support during the 2018 fall term, Elizabeth did not benefit from courses for which she paid tuition," the complaint states.
When contacted by the Globe Gazette for a comment, Gray declined.
The Globe left a voice mail Wednesday morning for Dustin Zeschke, the attorney representing the St. Ansgar School District and the AEA. He had not returned the call as of press time.