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.

Continue Reading OSERS Guidance Encourages Collaboration and Creativity for IEP Teams

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.

Continue Reading New OSERS Guidance on Reopening, Compensatory Services

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.

Continue Reading ISBE Updates Guidance on New Transition Laws

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.

Continue Reading New Federal Guidance Reiterates Child Find Responsibilities

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.

Continue Reading Students with Long COVID May Need Support Under Section 504 or the IDEA

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.

Continue Reading New Department of Education Report Highlights the Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on Students

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.

Continue Reading Mental Health and Behavioral Health Days – Are Your Child Find Senses Tingling?

Just hours before the conclusion of the spring legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed two bills that will significantly impact students who receive services until age 22. 

The first, HB40, impacts students who turn 22 during the school year by allowing them to continue to receive special education services until the end of that school year rather than until the day before their 22nd birthday. This is a change we have been anticipating for some time, and will take effect upon the Governor’s signature.   

The second, HB 2748, titled “COVID-19 post-secondary transition recovery eligibility,” provides an extended period of IEP services for students who turned 22 “during the time in which the student’s in-person instruction, services, or activities” were “suspended for a period of 3 months or more during the school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Students who fit these criteria are eligible for services through the end of the regular 2021-2022 school year.  


Continue Reading Two New Bills Offer Extended Special Education Services to Transition Students

The Department of Education recently issued Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook. The handbook offers suggestions for creating safe and healthy learning environments, addressing lost instructional time, and supporting educator and staff stability and well-being. Throughout the guidance, the Department encourages readers to keep students who may have been especially impacted by the pandemic and remote learning – including students with disabilities – at the center of plans for returning to in-person learning and using American Rescue Plan funds. The reminder to focus on issues of equity and the needs of vulnerable students, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, Native American students, Asian American students, LGBTQ students, English learners, students with disabilities, migratory students, rural students, students in foster care, students in correctional facilities, and students experiencing homelessness is important. The details specific to special education, however, are fairly general.

Continue Reading COVID 19-Handbook V.2: What are the Implications for Special Education?

In the final weeks of the Trump administration, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) initiated “proactive investigations” against Seattle Public Schools and the Indiana Department of Education related to special education services during the pandemic. You’ll recall that since the early days of COVID-19 and the first school shut-downs, the Department of Education has maintained that, while the methodology may change, the obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with IEPs and 504 plans remains intact. In October, OCR and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) reiterated that position in two FAQ documents. These new investigations, opened as the Trump administration was headed out the door, were based on “disturbing reports” in local news media. The investigations aim to determine if Seattle Public Schools and the Indiana Department of Education have met federal requirements to provide appropriate and individualized instruction to students with disabilities during the pandemic.

Continue Reading Outgoing OCR Opens Investigations Into Special Education Services During Remote Learning