Accommodations and Modifications

With all the hub-bub about HB 3586 (more on that here!), you would be excused if you missed that another special education law, passed last year, went into effect this school year. This one is easy to implement. The law requires that the district post on its website and in its student handbook or “newsletter notice” that students with disabilities who do not qualify for an IEP may qualify for services under Section 504 if the student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, has a record of a physical or mental impairment, or is regarded as having a physical or mental impairment. That’s it. Or is it?
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AngelSense™, Amber Alert GPS™, Pocket Finder™, Filip™. The list of tracking devices for students with special needs constantly grows, and parents increasingly seek to send such devices with their students to school. The use of GPS is usually uncontroversial. But what if the device allows parents to listen into or even record what the student hears at school? Such functions can raise a plethora of legal concerns. In a recent due process decision from Nevada, an impartial hearing officer decided that parents of a student with Autism could not use the “listen-in” function of an AngelSense tracker at school. What does this decision mean for school districts across the country, including in Illinois?
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We all know by now that some modifications and accommodations are required to provide students with disabilities equal access to extracurricular activities. But the details can be tricky for even the most well-seasoned special education professionals. Our own John Swinney will be tackling this and other exciting student activities topics tomorrow, April 12, 2019, at the Illinois Directors of Student Activities State Convention in Rosemont. He hopes to see many familiar faces there! For those who want a taste of what he will discuss on this hot topic, read on for the four key questions to ask (and insight on how to apply them)! 
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In the realm of special education, the use of specialized jargon and unique terminology it the norm. Whether it’s terms that seem basic to us now, like “IEP” and “LRE,” or more of-the-minute phrases like “significant disproportionality,” those of us who work in special education law are expected to be fluent in a veritable alphabet soup of terms and phrases. Two of the most confusing phrases that we come across are “accommodation” and “modification,” so much so that a quick review of court, hearing officer, and Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) decisions shows these terms being used interchangeably, contradictorily, and downright confusingly from day to day. What are the differences between these words, and do those differences matter? Keep reading to find out!

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