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.
In the wake of Governor Pritzker’s recent order requiring all Illinois schools to close between March 17 and March 30, many schools and school districts have been left guessing how to best serve students with disabilities and comply with IDEA timelines during the closure. While forthcoming guidance from ISBE and the U.S. Department of Education may provide additional flexibility and clarity, for now we can share the following update to ease your mind a bit. In summary, schools can safely consider that all special education deadlines calculated using “school days,” including evaluations, are postponed. Guidance is limited with respect to other timelines and so we recommend that you contact legal counsel to address how your school district will proceed with those calculations.
School personnel should expect to encounter a heated parent from time to time; parents are often understandably passionate about their children’s educations. But what happens when parental advocacy escalates from vigorous advocacy, strenuous objections, and detailed questions to baseless accusations, repeated demands, and threatening or vulgar language or actions? What can a school do when a parent’s hostile behavior continues over time, putting a strain on staff members’ time and impeding productive communication? A recent case out of the Ninth Circuit examined just such a situation and affirmed the rights of schools to put in place reasonable limits on communication.
Dana Fattore Crumley and Kendra Yoch were honored to present at the IAASE 21st Annual Winter Conference in Springfield on “The Crossroads of Special Education Evaluation and Risk Assessment: Which Issue Has the Right of Way?” For anyone who was not able to make the conference or session, here is a handy recap and some key takeaways to bring you up to speed on the intersection between threat assessment and special education evaluations.
Continue Reading What Did I Miss? Recap of IAASE Presentation on Special Education Evaluations and Threat Assessments
Last week, ISBE reversed course on isolated time out. After initially banning the practice in late November 2019, ISBE heard from many stakeholders that having a staff member in a time out room with an escalated student was often unsafe. The recent amendment to the emergency rules seeks to limit and regulate the use of isolated time out rather than prohibit it altogether. Accordingly, ISBE updated its Guidance and Frequently Asked Questions and reporting form to reflect the new development. Continue Reading Isolated Time Out is Back (for now): ISBE Issues Revised Guidance and Reporting Form After Second Amendment to Emergency Rules on Time Out and Physical Restraint