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

*Also authored by Mikaila John  

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented hardships for all students and school leaders, and it has been particularly challenging for students with disabilities and their IEP teams. Over the last nine months,  districts and schools have been trying to figure out the most practical and effective ways to deliver special education and related services in a remote and hybrid learning environment. At the same time, a growing number of parents have brought due process complaints and state complaints to challenge the adequacy of those services. As those cases slowly work their way through the system, we are starting now to see more decisions. The challenges have been largely focused on whether schools are providing the special education and related services identified on the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible and whether those services meet the student’s needs.


Continue Reading Is Providing Services to the Greatest Extent Possible Enough?

Over the past year, the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools has come under increased scrutiny. While ISBE issued emergency rules at the end of last November, followed by a series of updates and then final rules in April 2020, state and federal legislators have also been working on proposed laws that would both limit the use of physical restraint and seclusion and require plans to decrease the use of these techniques over time.

The Illinois legislation, Senate Bill 2315, was introduced last November. After input from stakeholders and various revisions, the bill appeared ready to move during veto session. As veto session was canceled, we may see a vote on the bill during the lame duck session in January. On the federal side, the Keeping All Students Safe Act was first introduced in 2009 (at that time called the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act). The bill has been reintroduced in the years since but never had sufficient support to pass. The bill was recently reintroduced in the House, and President-Elect Biden has voiced his support of the legislation.

Given the increasing possibility that one or both of these bills could become law, now is good time to learn more about their details. Here are the highlights:

Illinois

Federal

  • Prohibit prone restraint
  • Require schools to offer a meeting to parents after each incident of restraint or time out
  • Require districts to create oversight teams to develop school-specific plans to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of physical restraint and time out, as well as annual reporting on progress
  • Subject to appropriation, provide grants for schools to implement positive behavioral interventions and supports aimed at reducing the need for physical restraint and time out
 
  • Prohibit prone and supine restraint and seclusion
  • Limit on the use of physical restraint and prohibit including it as a planned intervention in a student’s IEP or BIP
  • Require a meeting with parents and staff after an incident of restraint
  • Provide for a State-approved crisis intervention training program, as well as state mechanisms to effectively monitor and enforce compliance
  • Provide for a private right of action
  • Provide for grants to states to assist with complying with the new legislation, collecting and analyzing data, and improving school climate and culture


Continue Reading Proposed State and Federal Legislation Would Further Reduce Physical Restraint and Time Out in Schools

While much of the talk about Biden’s education agenda has quickly turned to who he will appoint to replace Betsy DeVos and how he will manage the COVID-19 pandemic, both critical issues for sure, we wanted to highlight Biden’s agenda related to special education. In his campaign, Biden made several important statements about his aims on this topic. Most importantly, he supports full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law provides for federal funding up to 40% of the average per pupil expenditure, but actual expenditures fall far short of that mark. The federal contribution is currently at about 14-15% or $13 billion. Additionally, his proposals include:

  • Increased funds to help teachers earn additional certification in high demand areas like special education. Given the shortage of special education teachers here in Illinois, additional support for teachers seeking this credential could help schools fill open positions and ensure student needs are met.
  • Double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools so students have access to mental health care and triple Title I funding. While these goals are not directed specifically to special education, this type of additional support for students could ease the burden on special educators and related services providers.
  • Funding for early childhood development experts in community health centers and pediatrician offices with a high percentage of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients. Again, while this is not a special education initiative, it could boost child find and assist families in accessing early intervention services.


Continue Reading What Will a Biden-Harris Administration Mean for Special Education?

OCR recently published a Q&A document providing expectations for compliance with civil rights laws during the pandemic. While OCR is not responsible for enforcing the IDEA, it is responsible for Section 504. Because students with IEPs are generally also protected by Section 504, the new guidance is applicable to students both with Section 504 plans and with IEPs. At the same time, OSEP published a Q&A document providing guidance specifically related to the IDEA. Much of the guidance will sound familiar, but you may find a few surprises.

Continue Reading OCR and OSEP Issue New Q&As related to Special Education in the Current COVID-19 Environment

Schools planning for students to return to campus in person this fall are confronting many significant challenges, including how to support students who may need physical restraint while also maintaining safe practices to minimize the risk of Coronavirus transmission. Schools and IEP teams should start planning to address this issue, such as considering whether additional PPE is needed, whether alternative behavior strategies and interventions could be effective, and whether other changes to the student’s  IEP, including placement, may be warranted to safely provide the student an appropriate education.

Additionally, staff need training to understand and comply with the new physical restraint and time out rules issued this spring. While some of the required training can be done remotely, training related to physical restraint must be done in person. ISBE advised in its recently updated Guidance and FAQ document that the required eight hours of annual training for the 2020-2021 school year must be completed by December 31, 2020.


Continue Reading Key Elements of ISBE’s Permanent Rules on Isolated Time Out, Time Out, and Physical Restraint

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