ISBE and IDPH recently released their guidance related to Starting the 2020-21 School Year. The guidance addresses a broad range of topics, including some suggestions related to special education. The following week ISBE issued an FAQ targeting special education issues.  While many details remain to be worked out at the local level, here are our key takeaways related to placing a high priority on returning students with disabilities to in-person instruction, addressing the needs of medically fragile students, continued remote learning versus homebound instruction, face coverings, and the many demands and challenges facing IEP teams.

First, ISBE states that “high priority should be placed on providing in-person instruction for students with IEPs [and] 504 plans.” Additionally, “these students should be in attendance in-person daily during Blended Remote Learning Days.” Developing a plan to manage the learning and safety needs of an entire school and entire district, cooperative, or network is a major undertaking that includes balancing many competing demands. Given the additional needs of students with IEPs and 504 plans, as well as their additional legal protections (and the corresponding risks to not providing adequate services), prioritizing these students for in-person instruction is prudent.


Continue Reading Planning for Return to In-Person Instruction: Special Education Considerations

On June 30, 2020, ISBE issued an FAQ document with the purpose of assisting school districts in the transition to in-person instruction. This document, which supplements ISBE’s general guidance on return to in-person instruction during Phase 4, does not include waivers or offer flexibility on existing rules. Rather, it summarizes past and current recommendations in a potpourri of categories including (1) ESY, (2) compensatory services, (3) evaluations, (4) class sizes, (5) homebound services, (6) health and safety factors, (7) IEP meetings/mediations/hearings, (8) delivery of special education instruction and related service, and (9) rules related to private special education schools. An abbreviated version of the guidance, or “cheat sheet” follows. Also check out this post providing additional considerations and analysis related to planning for a return to in-person instruction.

Continue Reading Cheat Sheet for ISBE’s FAQ for Special Education on the Transition to In-Person Instruction

Less than a year ago, Public Act 101-0515 sent Illinois special educators scrambling to comply with an array of new procedural requirements. IAASE and other groups have been working to bring additional clarity to the law and make it more workable for schools while maintaining the original focus on parent participation. Senate Bill 1569 just passed in the legislature and, if signed, would make changes in each of the areas impacted by the original Act. Although you’re busy dealing with the challenges related to remote learning and preparing for the unknowns of next school year, take a few minutes to review the changes below and get ready to make a couple additional modifications to your processes.

Continue Reading New Bill Would Bring More Changes to Special Education Procedures

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 be made to provide flexibility regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Earlier this week, Secretary DeVos made her recommendations to Congress, declining to seek significant flexibility for IDEA provisions. Secretary DeVos only requested limited waivers related to pre-k evaluations.

Continue Reading Secretary DeVos Rejects Extensive Waivers to Special Education Requirements, Leaving Core of IDEA Intact

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.

In a previous post, we forecasted further guidance from ISBE and the U.S. Department of Education to provide additional clarity for schools in regard to how to best serve students with disabilities during school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this week, ISBE posted an updated FAQ regarding providing special education during remote learning as Illinois schools remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The 17-page document reviews current requirements, repeating that federal and State law requirements related to students with disabilities are still in effect despite the suspension of in-person instruction. The FAQ tracks closely with federal guidance. And while ISBE provides some guidance regarding how Districts should offer remote services, many issues are left to schools and their counsel to navigate.

Continue Reading ISBE Issues FAQ Regarding Special Education During Remote Learning

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