In this second blog post in our series on the OSERS Question and Answer document on IDEA requirements related to returning to in-person instruction, we are focusing on two questions relevant to this time of transition and uncertainty. (Our first post highlighted the guidance related to compensatory services; you can read that here.) Schools are open in person, but quarantines, adaptive pauses, and mitigation measures continue. And while expanded access to vaccinations will hopefully keep more students in school in person, the possibility of a future return to remote or hybrid instruction is not negligible. Below we explain the OSERS guidance related to contingency plans and remote meetings.
The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) published a Question and Answer document to advise school districts on returning to in-person instruction. The OSERS Q&A provides guidance on special education issues, including IEP meetings, extended school year services, mental health, medical conditions, transition services, and placement. While much of the document reiterates long-standing law, OSERS does provide some new guidance specific to COVID-19 transitions. We will be releasing a series of blog posts focused on those new issues.
In July, the Illinois State Board of Education published non-regulatory guidance to assist schools in implementing HB 40 and HB 2748, now Public Act 102-0172 and 102-0173, respectively. The FAQ addressed many of questions from the field, as we summarized here. ISBE recently updated the FAQ, providing additional guidance related to HB 2748, specifically recommending that districts consider including a more expansive group of students for postsecondary recovery services eligibility and providing the option to parents and adult students to file a State complaint related to the provision of services under the Act. ISBE also enacted an emergency regulation related to the extended eligibility for postsecondary services.
Welcome to the 2021-2022 school year. As the new year gets underway, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) within the Department of Education advised states and districts that it will be providing a series of guidance documents addressing “school reopening efforts and intended to support the full implementation of IDEA requirements.” The letter emphasizes and reiterates the guidance provided throughout 2020 that no IDEA requirements were waived and that, regardless of the instructional delivery approach, districts remain responsible for ensuring that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is available to all children with disabilities. The first guidance document addresses child find, reviewing well-established principles and commenting on the impact of the pandemic. Read on for highlights.
Welcome to the 2021-2022 school year! As we begin, special education leaders should take note of several new laws recently signed by the Governor. We have been talking a lot about HB 40 and HB 2748, which extend transition services for students who turn 22. But several others also deserve our attention, including new laws that limit the use of time out and physical restraint, require districts to ensure their websites and remote learning platforms are accessible to people with disabilities, require IEP teams to provide PUNS information to families at annual reviews, require the consideration of in-State residential programs, allow student absences related to mental or behavioral health, create the High Cost Special Education Funding Commission, and require daily play time for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Read on for more details.
On July 26, 2021, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a Factsheet explaining the potential for students who have been infected with COVID-19 to experience new, returning, or ongoing post-COVID health problems that may qualify as a disability under Section 504 or the IDEA. The Factsheet reinforces the need to follow standard Section 504 and IDEA procedures related to child find, evaluations, eligibility, and services and modifications for such students. The challenges of the last year and a half have led to a variety of health, academic, and social/emotional difficulties for students, all of which must be reviewed on an individual basis to determine if they indicate a disability.
Earlier this summer, we let you know about two special education bills that had passed the Illinois legislature, which, if signed by the Governor, would provide additional services to some transition students. These bills have both been signed by the Governor, and ISBE has issued an FAQ to address the many questions from the field on how these laws will work in practice.
In this immediate post-COVID-19 education landscape in which schools are contemplating a full return to in-person instruction, schools are also grappling with the stark realities of achievement gaps and the disproportionate impacts that the pandemic and remote learning had on various student populations. In response to President Biden’s Executive Order calling for the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education to deliver a report on the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on students in elementary, secondary, and higher education, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published this Report. The introduction to the Report states that “Although this Report provides a data-driven account of COVID-19’s disparate impacts on students, rather than a legal analysis, it is important to recognize that disparities can sometimes be evidence of legal injuries under Federal civil rights laws, even when policies and practices do not directly single out a group of people for harm.” Accordingly, while the purpose of the Report is to take stock of the impact of the pandemic on students, including the particular challenges encountered by students of color, students learning English, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQ+, and to set the stage for anticipated future guidance and resources to address these disparities, schools should take note of the potential legal implications as well.
On June 11, 2021, Kendra Yoch and Amy Dickerson hosted the sixth session of Franczek’s Educational Equity Webinar Series. This session focused on issues of disproportionality in special education and methods of increasing equity and inclusion for students with disabilities. Our guests were Dr. Cheryl Caesar, Assistant Director of Diverse Learners at Waukegan Community Unit School District; Jeremy Duffy, Senior Legal Compliance Officer at Waukegan Community Unit School District; and Dr. Jennifer Sterpin, Director of Special Education at Lake Forest High School District 115.
On May 30, 2021, SB1577 passed both houses and, if signed by the Governor, will amend the School Code to reflect that the mental or behavioral health of a student is a “valid cause” for absence from school. Currently, valid exemptions recognized for school-age children to be absent include but are not limited to illness, religious holidays, death in the immediate family, and family emergencies. Additionally, in January 2019, “other circumstances which cause reasonable concern to the parent for the mental, emotional, or physical health or safety of the student” was added. The most recent amendment would allow parents to keep their student home from school for “the mental or behavioral health of the child for up to 5 days for which the child need not provide a medical note.” The bill also provides that the mental or behavioral health absence will be considered an excused absence and the student will be given the opportunity to make up their missed schoolwork.