As part of its ongoing efforts to increase inclusivity towards non-native English speakers in the academic setting, the Illinois State Board of Education amended its special education regulations to expand access to interpreters and translated documents. These changes, which went into effect on February 6, 2023, are largely geared towards ensuring meaningful participation for non-native English-speaking parents in special education meetings and decision making processes These changes not only codify procedures that were already in place but also institute new responsibilities for school districts and rights for parents.

Parents who believe that a school district unreasonably denied their request for an interpreter in an IEP meeting, have all the rights available to them for remedy under the IDEA and Article 14 of the Illinois School Code, including but not limited to a due process hearing, mediation, and filing a Complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. To ensure compliance, school districts must record data on interpretation services, such as notices of interpretation services, when those services are or are not provided, when parents file complaints on the basis of interpretation services, the qualifications of the interpreters and more.Continue Reading New Amendments to Illinois Special Education Regulations Increase Translation Accommodations for Parents and Guardians

As the 2022-2023 school year draws to a close, the deadline to submit Physical Restraint, Time Out and Isolated Time Out (RTO) Plans for the 2023-2024 school year, as well as progress reports for the 2022-2023 school year, is fast approaching. The District’s oversight team, which must include teachers, paraprofessionals, school service personnel, and administrators, should use the updated directions, checklist, and 2023-2024 templates released by ISBE when developing their school-specific RTO Plan for reducing the use of restraint, time out, and isolated time out and procedures to implement the Plan. The updated template includes a new section that streamlines the submission of progress reports and RTO Plans by combining the progress reports for the 2022-2023 school year and the 2023-2024 RTO Plan into a single document. As a reminder, the 2022-2023 progress report and 2023-2024 RTO Plan need to be submitted to ISBE at rtoreductionplan@isbe.net by July 1, 2023.Continue Reading Important Upcoming Restraint, Time Out, and Isolated Time Out Deadlines

Over the past year and a half, school districts have been inundated with high numbers of due process complaints and mediation requests. Looking back, it appears that as the wave of COVID-19 cases finally began to slow, the number of due process complaints and mediation requests increased drastically. As we head into 2023, we want to reflect on recent trends in due process litigation to help prepare for the year ahead.

The pattern of increased litigiousness is likely the culmination of increased frustrations with the effects that remote learning and COVID-19 had on students. Parents are frustrated that they are not seeing the progress they expected to see in their students’ goals. On the other side of things, school districts are seeing inappropriate behaviors in an intensity and severity they have never seen before.Continue Reading Trends in Due Process Litigation

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

On June 11, 2021, Kendra Yoch and Amy Dickerson hosted the sixth session of Franczek’s Educational Equity Webinar Series. This session focused on issues of disproportionality in special education and methods of increasing equity and inclusion for students with disabilities. Our guests were Dr. Cheryl Caesar, Assistant Director of Diverse Learners at Waukegan Community Unit School District; Jeremy Duffy, Senior Legal Compliance Officer at Waukegan Community Unit School District; and Dr. Jennifer Sterpin, Director of Special Education at Lake Forest High School District 115.
Continue Reading Recap: Addressing Disproportionality and Increasing Equity and Inclusion in Special Education [Educational Equity Webinar Series]

ISBE has adopted new rules to support parent participation in IEP meetings by requiring districts to arrange for and fund “qualified interpreters” for parents whose native language is other than English. We have heard concern from many clients that they do not yet have staff who meet the requirements to be a qualified interpreter. This is not surprising given that the rules are brand new and the requirements are extensive. In the meantime (and on ongoing basis if desired), districts can use outside vendors, including telephonic interpreters. The requirements for qualified interpreters are summarized below. For now, districts should focus on meeting the new notice requirements, also spelled out below.

Notice Requirements (23 Ill. Admin. Code 226.530)

In each Notice of Conference and in the district’s annual notice to all parents of children with disabilities, the following must be provided:

  1. The availability of interpretation services at IEP team meetings;
  2. An explanation of how parents can request an interpreter;
  3. Notice that a parent has the right to request that the interpreter serve no other role in the IEP meeting than as an interpreter, and that the district should make reasonable efforts to fulfill this request; and
  4. A point of contact to address any questions or complaints about interpretation services.

Continue Reading New Rules for Qualified Interpreters in Effect

Now that many of us have been doing some form of remote learning for close to 7 months, we are starting to see hearing officers and state agencies weigh in to resolve complaints related to the appropriateness of remote special education services. While we have not yet seen any Illinois decisions, a review of decisions from other states may shed some light on trends and approaches. Read on for a sample of recent cases and takeaways that may be relevant to your school.

Participation in Remote Learning

In a due process case in Washington, DC, the student had previously been residentially placed but transitioned to a therapeutic day school in January 2020. The student was making some progress until schools were closed due to the pandemic but did not participate in the school’s remote learning program. While the student’s guardian advocated for the student to return to the residential placement, the student, district, and therapeutic school recommended continuing at the day school. Given that a month had passed between the hearing and the decision, the hearing officer directed the IEP team to meet and determine if the student had been participating in the remote program. If so, that would demonstrate that the day school was his least restrictive environment. But if the student had not been participating, a residential placement should be made.

Schools should take and document steps to support student engagement in remote learning. An IEP meeting to develop new approaches may be warranted to avoid a potential need for compensatory services and/or a more restrictive placement.

Continue Reading What Are Hearing Officers Saying about Remote Learning?

With the number of students who identify as gender non-conforming on the rise, many educators have questions regarding the supports and services that may be available to such students. This year at IAASE, Jennifer Smith and John Swinney addressed this intersection of gender identity and special education, including factors to consider under Section 504, the

As the kick-off to the school year winds down and daily routines take shape, we start to see serious student discipline issues pop up. And one situation that always leads to confusion is what to do when a student who does not have an IEP is up for expulsion and then the parent requests an evaluation or argues that the student should have already been found eligible. You know special rules apply, but trying to piece it all together can make your head spin.

We’re flowchart people over here at Franczek P.C. Let’s start with a visual representation of the process, then we’ll dig into some of the complexities and reference guidance the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released earlier this year.
Continue Reading Disciplinary Protections for Students Not Determined Eligible for Special Education – Wait. How Does That Work?