Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, no formal flexibility has been granted to schools to deviate from State and federal special education requirements. However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) gave the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos the power to appeal to Congress if she believes that waivers should

Just as remote learning has become the new normal, we turn to planning for ESY and the 2020-21 school year. While the timeline for returning to school buildings remains uncertain, the eligibility of some students with disabilities for support over the summer remains clear. How should schools think about ESY eligibility this school year? We recommend starting with the same standards that have long governed ESY eligibility.

Under IDEA, the IEP team determines whether a student needs special education and related services beyond the normal school year to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). ISBE guidance from 2001 reviews the case law related to ESY eligibility and identifies the following key factors for IEP teams to consider:

  1. regression/recoupment;
  2. the nature of the disability and degree of impairment; and
  3. emerging skills, and areas of learning crucial for independence.


Continue Reading “Extended School Year” When the Regular School Year Wasn’t Finished

And so it begins. While we have encouraged schools to focus on meeting student needs during the school closure and planning to meet student needs when we return to school buildings, we knew the temptation to jump ahead to compensatory education questions would be strong. Guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Education and ISBE have contributed to such concerns by stating that IEP teams will need to make individual compensatory education determinations for students when school resumes. Now, a putative class action lawsuit has been filed in Hawaii. The suit alleges that Hawaii denied students FAPE by failing to implement their IEPs during the school closure and seeks to establish a set of parameters and procedures to identify and address lost educational opportunities for students. While class action lawsuits and the specter of numerous due process complaints raise our collective blood pressure, we continue to advise that schools focus on doing their best to provide reasonable services to meet individual student needs, communicate with parents, and document, document, document. These actions will prepare schools to address requests for compensatory services if and when they come.

Continue Reading Hawaii Comp Ed Class Action: Don’t Panic. Plan.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently issued a “Supplemental Fact Sheet” updating its earlier Questions & Answers and Fact Sheet on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and clarifying that schools should not refrain from providing distance learning out of fear that they cannot adequately serve students with disabilities. In the updated guidance, ED advises school districts that the delivery of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) remains required but may look different when schools are physically closed. The guidance also addresses the impact of school closures on special education timelines, including urging schools “to work with parents to reach mutually agreeable extensions of time.” School districts should keep the fact sheet in mind when crafting general distance learning options and specific services and supports for individual students.

Continue Reading Department of Education Stresses Special Education Should Not Discourage Distance Learning Efforts

On March 18, 2020, ISBE issued guidance on providing special education during the current mandatory two-week school closure. While the guidance responds to some of the questions arising from this unprecedented situation, neither the U.S. Department of Education nor Congress has provided flexibility with respect to IDEA rules, and the State is correspondingly constrained. As we described in our last post, the big picture message is to do your best to provide services to students with disabilities and meet applicable deadlines. Be creative, document your efforts, and expect compensatory education claims once we get back to school. Below are the key takeaways from ISBE’s guidance.

Continue Reading Highlights from ISBE Special Education Guidance During the Mandated School Closure

In the wake of Governor Pritzker’s recent order requiring all Illinois schools to close between March 17 and March 30, many schools and school districts have been left guessing how to best serve students with disabilities and comply with IDEA timelines during the closure. While forthcoming guidance from ISBE and the U.S. Department of Education may provide additional flexibility and clarity, for now we can share the following update to ease your mind a bit. In summary, schools can safely consider that all special education deadlines calculated using “school days,” including evaluations, are postponed. Guidance is limited with respect to other timelines and so we recommend that you contact legal counsel to address how your school district will proceed with those calculations.

Continue Reading In the Nick of Time—Special Education Timelines During School Closures for COVID-19

Is your school threat assessment team in place and ready to act in order to meet upcoming legal deadlines? Does it understand the interaction between threat assessments and special education evaluations? Is it adequately prepared so that your school will not be the next one in the media spotlight for a threat assessment gone wrong? In this post, we highlight three key issues involving threat assessment and describe upcoming opportunities to learn what you need to know to properly conduct threat assessments going forward.
Continue Reading Threat Assessments: Three Key Issues for Illinois Schools

After receiving and reviewing questions and concerns from stakeholders regarding the practical implications of its emergency rules on the use of time out and physical restraint, the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) released a Guidance and FAQ document aimed at providing clarification. The Guidance, which ISBE issued in collaboration with the Illinois Counsel of School Attorneys (“ICSA”), explains what does and does not constitute a time out—one of the issues that has caused the most confusion. The Guidance also provides other needed definitions and answers various practical questions related to alternative behavioral supports and the application of time out and physical restraint. Because the Guidance document is extensive, we have highlighted some of the more important and nuanced questions that may be of interest to your school or district below.

Continue Reading Key Takeaways From ISBE’s Guidance and FAQ on Time Out and Physical Restraint Emergency Rules

Within the last few weeks, there have been significant changes to the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) rules regarding time out and physical restraint. First, ISBE issued emergency rules, then it issued amendments to the emergency rules, and finally, on December 9, 2019, ISBE published proposed permanent rules on the use of time out and physical restraint. We have heard and raised numerous questions and concerns regarding the practical implications of the emergency rules in the classroom. ISBE’s proposed permanent rules provide some additional clarity. But the work to overhaul policies and procedures and train staff on the rules is significant. To help with that work, the following chart sets forth the key differences between the amended emergency rules and the proposed permanent rules. We also flag several new provisions in the proposed rules to assist you in understanding and preparing for the likely upcoming changes.

Continue Reading What Do ISBE’s Proposed Permanent Rules on Time Out and Physical Restraint Mean for Your School?