Photo of Kathryn Vander Broek

Attorney practicing in the areas of school and employment law with an emphasis in special education and discrimination law.

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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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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In 2017, the Supreme Court issued an opinion, Fry v. Napoleon, stating that unless parents/guardians seek relief that is also available under the IDEA, they need not exhaust IDEA procedures by filing a complaint for a due process hearing before filing a lawsuit under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Michigan federal trial court so that it could collect more facts and apply the “Fry tests” that the Supreme Court set forth in the case. Earlier this month, the trial court ruled in favor of the Frys, finding that the parents’ claims were not subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement because the parents were not claiming a denial of a free, appropriate public education (or “FAPE). The decision makes clear how important it is for school districts to identify requests for accommodation that are related to access and equity (and not the denial of a FAPE) from early on in the process and to handle them as required by Section 504 and the ADA. It also highlights the importance of ensuring that documentation regarding requests for accommodation thorough and clear. For more on the next chapter in this important Supreme Court case, keep reading!
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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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