Just hours before the conclusion of the spring legislative session, the Illinois General Assembly passed two bills that will significantly impact students who receive services until age 22. 

The first, HB40, impacts students who turn 22 during the school year by allowing them to continue to receive special education services until the end of that school year rather than until the day before their 22nd birthday. This is a change we have been anticipating for some time, and will take effect upon the Governor’s signature.   

The second, HB 2748, titled “COVID-19 post-secondary transition recovery eligibility,” provides an extended period of IEP services for students who turned 22 “during the time in which the student’s in-person instruction, services, or activities” were “suspended for a period of 3 months or more during the school year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Students who fit these criteria are eligible for services through the end of the regular 2021-2022 school year.  

Continue Reading Two New Bills Offer Extended Special Education Services to Transition Students

On May 30, 2021, the Illinois legislature passed HB219which will further restrict the use of time out and physical restraint in Illinois schools. The legislation will take effect upon signature by Governor Pritzker. You may recall that similar bills have been introduced over the last several sessions, and the current bill is very similar to the version we previously highlighted for you. The legislature took action at the close of this session and just days following the publication of another Pro Publica article showing continued reliance on time out and physical restraint, despite reduced in-person instruction this year. The main components of the bill include (1) additional oversight from ISBE; (2) district level plans to reduce the use of isolated time out, time out, and physical restraint; (3) codification of definitions and rules in the current regulations (with a few modifications); and (4) the opportunity for parents to request a post-incident meeting to debrief.  

Continue Reading Illinois Legislature Passes Bill Further Restricting Time Out and Physical Restraint

On May 13, 2021, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights published a Q&A on Civil Rights and School Reopening in the COVID-19 Environment. The document is aimed at “helping schools reopen safely and in ways that support equity among students” and addresses obligations under Section 504 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability), Title VI (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin), and Title IX (prohibiting discrimination based on sex). In the disability section, most of the answers repeat or expand on prior guidance from the Department. And on the one question where we are anticipating new guidance, the answer: keep anticipating. “The Department is aware of important questions regarding compensatory services for students with disabilities and plans to address those in a separate guidance document.” A brief summary of the other answers follows.

To start, yes, public schools still have to comply with Section 504 (was there any doubt?). Given that obligation, when schools are operating remotely, students are still entitled to FAPE and Section 504 teams and IEP teams need to make individualized determinations about whether adjustments are needed in this new model. This guidance echoes what the Department has said since early in the pandemic. The Q&A also reiterates that remote learning services must be provided in a way that is accessible to students with disabilities (accommodations like captioning on videos and audio versions of written text).

Continue Reading New OCR Q&A Reiterates Guidance, Promises Additional Guidance on Compensatory Services to Come

The Department of Education recently issued Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook. The handbook offers suggestions for creating safe and healthy learning environments, addressing lost instructional time, and supporting educator and staff stability and well-being. Throughout the guidance, the Department encourages readers to keep students who may have been especially impacted by the pandemic and remote learning – including students with disabilities – at the center of plans for returning to in-person learning and using American Rescue Plan funds. The reminder to focus on issues of equity and the needs of vulnerable students, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, Native American students, Asian American students, LGBTQ students, English learners, students with disabilities, migratory students, rural students, students in foster care, students in correctional facilities, and students experiencing homelessness is important. The details specific to special education, however, are fairly general.

Continue Reading COVID 19-Handbook V.2: What are the Implications for Special Education?

The American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden at the end of last week includes almost $130 billion in education funding. The vast majority of that money will be distributed to school districts based on the Title I formula. This amounts to an average of $2,521 per student in Illinois, though districts with more disadvantaged students will receive more while other districts will receive less. Some of the money will also go to states to use for learning recovery grants, summer enrichment programs, and after-school programs. Of particular importance to special education directors and practitioners is that $3 billion dollars are allocated for IDEA funding. That amount includes $2.58 billion for Part B grants, $200 million for special education preschool grants, and $250 million for Part C grants for infants and toddlers. This money is in addition to the $12.9 billion in state grants for special education in the regular federal budget this year.

Continue Reading New IDEA Funding in the American Rescue Plan Act

A recent OCR decision out of Wyoming is a reminder to school districts of their Child Find obligations—including during remote instruction. In Teton County School District, Wyoming, OCR found in favor of the school district who responded to a doctor’s note diagnosing anxiety and depression with immediate supports and initiating an evaluation. The case illustrates the perils of informal communication about disabilities but confirms that not every reference to a disability triggers the obligation to evaluate.

In the Wyoming case, there were several red flags that unfolded for school personnel.

Continue Reading OCR Decision Highlights Common Child Find Red Flags

ISBE has proposed amendments to the current rules regarding special education. These amendments generally track recent changes in the School Code, including

  • PA 101-0643: Changes related to RTI and MTSS, providing written materials 3 school days prior to IEP meetings, related services logs, and providing notice of missed services. We previously covered this legislation with an overview and tips for implementation. The legislation was effective June 18, 2020.
  • PA 101-0164: Revisions to the process for a school district to withdraw from a special education joint agreement. This legislation was effective July 26, 2019.
  • PA 100-0465: As part of the Evidence Based Funding for Student Success Act, changes related to personnel reimbursement. These changes were effective August 31, 2017.

The proposed amendments to the rules also include clarification of multiple definitions. While most of the changes are “clean up,” we thought you might be interested in a few curious provisions: the definition of the term “school day” and the use of RTI and MTSS as part of the evaluation process.

Continue Reading Proposed Amendments to Special Education Rules Have Two Curious Provisions

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

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

Prior to winter break, we wrote about proposed legislation that would further limit the use of physical restraint and time out in Illinois schools. While many expected the bill to pass during the lame duck session earlier this month, it failed to do so. Some opposition continues, but we do expect the bill to be taken up again in the spring.

In the meantime, we’ll be sharing a checklist of the current requirements for policies, procedures, and training in the IAASE blog next week. The final regulations issued last spring remain in effect and do make significant changes to the prior regulations. While multiple revisions to policies and procedures is a pain, keeping your team up to date and in compliance is essential, especially to the extent you have students learning in-person.

Please reach out with any questions.