Photo of Jackie Gharapour Wernz

Attorney representing educational institutions in a wide range of education and employment law matters.

We all know that out-of-state residential placements are a big deal in special education, because we work in schools every day and support these challenging decisions made by school personnel. Now, the issue is garnering attention outside of the schoolhouse. A recent article by NPR Illinois highlighted the significant numbers of such placements, the potential causes of the placements, and the costs to schools and the government. NPR called on Franczek education partner Jennifer Smith to provide insight on this issue of importance to all members of the special education community, including schools.

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In a July 2019 briefing report, the United States Commission on Civil Rights warned that students of color with disabilities face exclusionary discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, at much higher rates than their peers without disabilities. What is the Commission, what were its findings and recommendations, and what do they mean for your school or school district?
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It’s a nightmare scenario: You come back to school rested after a well-deserved summer break to find a parent complaining that their child should have been evaluated over the summer and had an IEP in place on the first day of school. You received the request for an evaluation, either near the end of the school year or during the summer, but those pesky timelines can be so hard to keep up with when the sun is shining and vacation is on the horizon. What rules can help you avoid the timing trap for special education eligibility requests during the summer?
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Summer is upon us and so it’s the season for Extended School Year (ESY) services. What better time than now to brush up on the law in this area? Most special education school leaders are familiar with the regression/recoupment test, but many are less aware of the critical life skills test. What is it, and when does it apply?
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A recent decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals (the highest federal court in the jurisdictions of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island) rebuffed attempts by a student’s parents to heighten the “[f]ree appropriate public education” (FAPE) standard under Endrew F. The court also applied the same standard used by the Seventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, to analyze a claim that a school district failed to provide a student a FAPE in the “[l]east restrictive environment” (LRE). The decision is therefore a useful read for school leaders in Illinois and beyond. Don’t miss the key takeaways for school leaders at the end.
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AngelSense™, Amber Alert GPS™, Pocket Finder™, Filip™. The list of tracking devices for students with special needs constantly grows, and parents increasingly seek to send such devices with their students to school. The use of GPS is usually uncontroversial. But what if the device allows parents to listen into or even record what the student hears at school? Such functions can raise a plethora of legal concerns. In a recent due process decision from Nevada, an impartial hearing officer decided that parents of a student with Autism could not use the “listen-in” function of an AngelSense tracker at school. What does this decision mean for school districts across the country, including in Illinois?
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A recent Education Week Curriculum Matters blog post, “Meet the Moms Pushing for a Reading Overhaul in Their District,” is an important reminder of the challenges that can arise when parents and school staff do not agree on reading methodology for students with special needs. While the law allows schools to choose methodology for students receiving special education and related services in reading and other curricular areas, conflicts over curriculum choices can be expensive to litigate and can undermine parent-staff relationships. How do you minimize the risk of curriculum wars over reading methodology?
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We all know by now that some modifications and accommodations are required to provide students with disabilities equal access to extracurricular activities. But the details can be tricky for even the most well-seasoned special education professionals. Our own John Swinney will be tackling this and other exciting student activities topics tomorrow, April 12, 2019, at the Illinois Directors of Student Activities State Convention in Rosemont. He hopes to see many familiar faces there! For those who want a taste of what he will discuss on this hot topic, read on for the four key questions to ask (and insight on how to apply them)! 
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Most of the cases the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) handles involve disability discrimination, including claims that a school failed to implement an IEP or Section 504 plan. In our experience, however, OCR is often an afterthought for school employees who work in the field, and when OCR comes knocking school leaders often feel unprepared. Read on for five tips to help you feel more confident the next time you receive notice of an OCR complaint.
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In the realm of special education, the use of specialized jargon and unique terminology it the norm. Whether it’s terms that seem basic to us now, like “IEP” and “LRE,” or more of-the-minute phrases like “significant disproportionality,” those of us who work in special education law are expected to be fluent in a veritable alphabet soup of terms and phrases. Two of the most confusing phrases that we come across are “accommodation” and “modification,” so much so that a quick review of court, hearing officer, and Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) decisions shows these terms being used interchangeably, contradictorily, and downright confusingly from day to day. What are the differences between these words, and do those differences matter? Keep reading to find out!

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