We recently let you know about a pending bill that would make changes to several special education procedures. Senate Bill 1569 has now been signed by Governor Pritzker as PA 101-0643. The law makes numerous changes related to remote learning. For purposes of special education, consider the following action steps to meet the new requirements:
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.
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.
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:
- the nature of the disability and degree of impairment; and
- emerging skills, and areas of learning crucial for independence.
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.
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.
Last fall, in response to serious concerns raised about the use of isolated time out and physical restraint in schools, ISBE issued emergency rules to limit the use of those behavior management techniques. Emergency rules are effective for up to 150 days or until permanent rules are approved, and these emergency rules were due to expire on April 17, 2020. On April 9, ISBE and JCAR (the bipartisan legislative oversight committee responsible for reviewing and approving agency rulemaking) passed permanent rules regarding isolated time out, time out, and physical restraint. The new rules allow the use of isolated time out as well as prone and supine restraint in limited circumstances, but the provisions related to prone and supine restraint terminate on July 1, 2021.
After three weeks of being out of school buildings and one week of remote learning, we can all see that the IDEA was not written for pandemics and widespread school closures. While requests for IDEA flexibility have been made, the Department of Education has not indicated whether or when such requests might be granted. Federal and State guidance has been provided but continues to evolve. Educators, administrators, parents, attorneys, states, and the Department of Education are all improvising. In these uncertain times, we recommend schools go back to basics: individualize, communicate, document, and be reasonable. Remember that the FAPE standard is based on what is reasonable under the circumstances.
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.
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.