In March, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington ruled against a school district in favor of a student with intellectual disabilities, who was awarded $500,000 by a jury based on the district’s failure to address repeated acts of peer sexual harassment against the student. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the school district violated the student’s due process and equal protection rights, violated Title IX, violated the Washington Law against Discrimination, and was negligent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her due process, equal protection, and negligence claims, and the court denied the district’s motion to set the verdict aside. 

The case, Berg v. Bethel School District, is instructive on a range of issues relating to sexual misconduct involving students with disabilities, including a school district’s duty to protect a student with disabilities from sexual harassment even when the student does not explicitly object to the misconduct 

Continue Reading Federal Case Highlights Nuances of Addressing Sexual Harassment Involving Students with Disabilities

The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education recently issued a new Fact Sheet. The Fact Sheet repeats prior guidance that “the responsibility for schools to comply with Section 504 continues regardless of how schools provide education: virtually, in-person, or with a hybrid learning model.” Accordingly, the guidance provides that 504 teams should meet if needed to address changes in student needs related to the pandemic as well as to determine whether compensatory services are warranted. The OCR Fact Sheet follows the Q&A issued by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services last fall, which also called for IEP teams to make compensatory services determinations for students who missed services due to the pandemic.

Continue Reading OCR Issues Fact Sheet on Providing FAPE During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Addressing the Need for Compensatory Services Under Section 504

In Illinois, as universal masking is fading, the next question looms: what will the end of universal masking mean for staff and students with disabilities who are at high risk? Across the county, issues regarding universal masking have been hotly litigated. In this post, we focus on the issue of mask mandates as a reasonable accommodation for disability needs, and to date, the decisions paint a complicated picture. Districts planning or implementing mask optional plans should consider the needs of students and staff with disabilities who request continued masking of those around them to preserve their access to the district’s educational programs.

Continue Reading Are Mask Mandates a Reasonable Accommodation?

Over the summer, we reported on the passage of Public Act 102-0339, which aims to reduce and the use of time out, isolated time out, and physical restraint (referred to herein as “restrictive interventions”) in schools. In part, the new law requires ISBE to promulgate updated rules for the use of restrictive interventions, including documentation and reporting requirements, training requirements, and a procedure to file a complaint alleging a violation of the law related to the use of restrictive interventions. In addition, the new law requires ISBE to establish goals and benchmarks for schools to reduce the use of restrictive interventions within three years. Now, ISBE has released its goals and benchmarks, as well as new rules, which are currently pending approval. 

Continue Reading ISBE Releases New Rules and Goals & Benchmarks Regarding Use of Isolated Time Out, Time Out, and Physical Restraint

In response to the chronic and acute shortage of approved residential placements for Illinois students with special needs, ISBE announced on Monday two steps to provide some, limited relief.

According to a letter from the ISBE General Counsel to the Illinois Council of School Attorneys Executive Committee, ISBE will reinstate its prior practice of reimbursing districts for room, board, and tuition at nonapproved residential schools when ordered by a hearing officer (after the district pays twice its per capita rate for tuition). This change is retroactive to February 2020 when the practice had been discontinued.

Continue Reading ISBE Takes Steps to Increase Access to Residential Placements

In this third 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 an issue of special importance during and subsequent to the pandemic: assistive technology.

Even before schools shut their doors in the spring of 2020, many were already providing one-to-one devices for students. With the transition to virtual learning, even more schools provided students with laptops to enable them to participate in instruction from home. As more and more students are using technology in school, including software that provides supports like word prediction, speech-to-text, and text-to-speech, IEP team members may be unsure whether that technology should be recorded on the IEP as assistive technology for a student with a disability.

Continue Reading OSERS Guidance on Assistive Technology

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