On May 19, 2023, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Justice Department (DOJ) issued a joint letter addressing barriers that college students with disabilities face while accessing online services, programs, and activities—an issue that has become particularly acute since educational delivery moved online in response to the COVID pandemic. The letter acknowledges higher education’s increasing reliance on online platforms and the challenges that students with disabilities commonly encounter when engaging with these platforms. The letter also reminds institutions of their obligations under federal laws and recently issued guidance, highlights key enforcement actions by both departments, and provides information on where college students and members of the public can go to get help or file complaints related to digital access at higher education institutions.Continue Reading OCR and DOJ Issue Joint Letter Addressing Online Accessibility in Higher Ed
As part of its ongoing efforts to increase inclusivity towards non-native English speakers in the academic setting, the Illinois State Board of Education amended its special education regulations to expand access to interpreters and translated documents. These changes, which went into effect on February 6, 2023, are largely geared towards ensuring meaningful participation for non-native English-speaking parents in special education meetings and decision making processes These changes not only codify procedures that were already in place but also institute new responsibilities for school districts and rights for parents.
Parents who believe that a school district unreasonably denied their request for an interpreter in an IEP meeting, have all the rights available to them for remedy under the IDEA and Article 14 of the Illinois School Code, including but not limited to a due process hearing, mediation, and filing a Complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. To ensure compliance, school districts must record data on interpretation services, such as notices of interpretation services, when those services are or are not provided, when parents file complaints on the basis of interpretation services, the qualifications of the interpreters and more.Continue Reading New Amendments to Illinois Special Education Regulations Increase Translation Accommodations for Parents and Guardians
As the 2022-2023 school year draws to a close, the deadline to submit Physical Restraint, Time Out and Isolated Time Out (RTO) Plans for the 2023-2024 school year, as well as progress reports for the 2022-2023 school year, is fast approaching. The District’s oversight team, which must include teachers, paraprofessionals, school service personnel, and administrators, should use the updated directions, checklist, and 2023-2024 templates released by ISBE when developing their school-specific RTO Plan for reducing the use of restraint, time out, and isolated time out and procedures to implement the Plan. The updated template includes a new section that streamlines the submission of progress reports and RTO Plans by combining the progress reports for the 2022-2023 school year and the 2023-2024 RTO Plan into a single document. As a reminder, the 2022-2023 progress report and 2023-2024 RTO Plan need to be submitted to ISBE at email@example.com by July 1, 2023.Continue Reading Important Upcoming Restraint, Time Out, and Isolated Time Out Deadlines
The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a deaf student in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 81 (U.S. 2022), where the Court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) exhaustion requirement does not preclude claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for money damages because the relief sought under the ADA is not one that is available under the IDEA.Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Rules That IDEA Exhaustion Requirements Do Not Preclude Money Damages Under The ADA
Over the past year and a half, school districts have been inundated with high numbers of due process complaints and mediation requests. Looking back, it appears that as the wave of COVID-19 cases finally began to slow, the number of due process complaints and mediation requests increased drastically. As we head into 2023, we want to reflect on recent trends in due process litigation to help prepare for the year ahead.
The pattern of increased litigiousness is likely the culmination of increased frustrations with the effects that remote learning and COVID-19 had on students. Parents are frustrated that they are not seeing the progress they expected to see in their students’ goals. On the other side of things, school districts are seeing inappropriate behaviors in an intensity and severity they have never seen before.Continue Reading Trends in Due Process Litigation
The Biden Administration has recently taken steps through agency guidance, rulemaking and decision-making to highlight protections for students and employees with pregnancy-related conditions, including abortion, under the umbrella of Title IX. Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this past June overturning the 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion, these recent actions by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provide reminders to educational institutions that Title IX continues to guarantee certain protections under federal law for students and employees based on pregnancy and related conditions, including the termination of pregnancy.
On July 18, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its revised Case Processing Manual (CPM), which was last updated in August 2020. The CPM outlines the procedures OCR uses to investigate and resolve complaints under the civil rights laws it enforces, including Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The revised manual contains several noteworthy changes schools and colleges should be aware of, including the following highlighted below.
Definition of “complaint”
- Defines “complaint” as “a written statement to the Department [of Education] alleging that the rights of one or more persons have been violated and requesting that the Department take action.”
- Expressly states that the following are not considered complaints: oral allegations, anonymous correspondence, courtesy copies of correspondence or a complaint filed or submitted somewhere else, and inquiries that seek advice/information but not action/intervention. Previously, OCR was permitted to determine on a case-by-case basis whether to process such correspondence or inquiries as a complaint.
- Clarifies that OCR may investigate Title IX complaints filed by employees as well as by students, parents, and applicants.
On July 19, 2022, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released several guidance documents concerning the civil rights of students with disabilities specific to student discipline. The resources are aimed at minimizing exclusionary discipline and supporting the pandemic-related mental health needs of students, particularly those with disabilities. With respect to schools providing training on the how to address disability-based behavior and implement the guidance, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “we expect that districts utilize the federal American Rescue Plan dollars to build capacity, provide professional learning opportunities for educators and school leaders, and hire additional staff.” The guidance documents reiterate requirements under federal law for disciplining students with disabilities and offers best practices and considerations for ensuring school disciplinary policies and practices are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner. Each guidance document is summarized below.
Governor Pritzker recently signed two bills into law, expanding accessibility and flexibility within special education. The first, Public Act 102-0703 (House Bill 4365), allows IEP teams to place students at non-ISBE-approved facilities and the second, Public Act 102-1072 (House Bill 5214), requires school districts to notify parents of their right to an interpreter during various special education proceedings. Both new laws went into effect immediately.
In March, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington ruled against a school district in favor of a student with intellectual disabilities, who was awarded $500,000 by a jury based on the district’s failure to address repeated acts of peer sexual harassment against the student. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the school district violated the student’s due process and equal protection rights, violated Title IX, violated the Washington Law against Discrimination, and was negligent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her due process, equal protection, and negligence claims, and the court denied the district’s motion to set the verdict aside.
The case, Berg v. Bethel School District, is instructive on a range of issues relating to sexual misconduct involving students with disabilities, including a school district’s duty to protect a student with disabilities from sexual harassment even when the student does not explicitly object to the misconduct.