Special Education Law Insights

On January 22, 2024, the United States Department of Education (“USDOE”) issued a Dear Colleague Letter regarding supporting students with disabilities who require assistive technology (“AT”) in order to receive meaningful access to their education. In conjunction with the Dear Colleague Letter, the USDOE also released a guidance document, Myths and Facts Surrounding Assistive Technology Devices and Services.

In the Dear Colleague Letter, the USDOE emphasizes the importance of assistive technology in transforming education and reducing barriers in equity and accessibility. The guidance document provides more in-depth information with the aim of increasing understanding of the IDEA’s requirements
Continue Reading Department of Education Dear Colleague Letter Provides Updated AT Device Guidance

On May 19, 2023, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Justice Department (DOJ) issued a joint letter addressing barriers that college students with disabilities face while accessing online services, programs, and activities—an issue that has become particularly acute since educational delivery moved online in response to the COVID pandemic. The letter acknowledges higher education’s increasing reliance on online platforms and the challenges that students with disabilities commonly encounter when engaging with these platforms. The letter also reminds institutions of their obligations under federal laws and recently issued guidance, highlights key enforcement actions by both departments,
Continue Reading OCR and DOJ Issue Joint Letter Addressing Online Accessibility in Higher Ed 

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
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
Continue Reading Important Upcoming Restraint, Time Out, and Isolated Time Out Deadlines

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a deaf student in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 81 (U.S. 2022), where the Court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) exhaustion requirement does not preclude claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for money damages because the relief sought under the ADA is not one that is available under the IDEA.

Michigan’s Sturgis Public School District was alleged to have provided the student with unqualified interpreters and misrepresented his educational progress, which ultimately led to the district not permitting him to graduate. The
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Rules That IDEA Exhaustion Requirements Do Not Preclude Money Damages Under The ADA

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
Continue Reading Trends in Due Process Litigation

The Biden Administration has recently taken steps through agency guidance, rulemaking and decision-making to highlight protections for students and employees with pregnancy-related conditions, including abortion, under the umbrella of Title IX. Against the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this past June overturning the 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion, these recent actions by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provide reminders to educational institutions that Title IX continues to guarantee certain protections under federal law for students and employees based on
Continue Reading Title IX Protections for Pregnancy after Overturning of Roe v. Wade

On July 18, 2022, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its revised Case Processing Manual (CPM), which was last updated in August 2020. The CPM outlines the procedures OCR uses to investigate and resolve complaints under the civil rights laws it enforces, including Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The revised manual contains several noteworthy changes schools and colleges should be aware of, including the following highlighted below. 

Definition of “complaint” 

  • Defines “complaint” as “a written statement to the Department [of Education] alleging that


Continue Reading OCR Releases Revised Case Processing Manual with New Updates to Complaint Process

On July 19, 2022, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released several guidance documents concerning the civil rights of students with disabilities specific to student discipline. The resources are aimed at minimizing exclusionary discipline and supporting the pandemic-related mental health needs of students, particularly those with disabilities.  With respect to schools providing training on the how to address disability-based behavior and implement the guidance, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, “we expect that districts utilize the federal American Rescue Plan dollars to build capacity, provide professional
Continue Reading OCR and OSERS Issue Guidance on IDEA and Section 504 Requirements for Addressing Disability-Based Student Behavior

Governor Pritzker recently signed two bills into law, expanding accessibility and flexibility within special education. The first, Public Act 102-0703 (House Bill 4365), allows IEP teams to place students at non-ISBE-approved facilities and the second, Public Act 102-1072 (House Bill 5214), requires school districts to notify parents of their right to an interpreter during various special education proceedings. Both new laws went into effect immediately. 

Placement

Public Act 102-0703 allows placement at non-ISBE approved facilities when ISBE provides an emergency and student-specific approval for the placement. To receive such approval, a school district must send a request to ISBE
Continue Reading Governor Pritzker Signs Two New Special Education Laws Regarding Placement and Interpretation Services

In March, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington ruled against a school district in favor of a student with intellectual disabilities, who was awarded $500,000 by a jury based on the district’s failure to address repeated acts of peer sexual harassment against the student. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the school district violated the student’s due process and equal protection rights, violated Title IX, violated the Washington Law against Discrimination, and was negligent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her due process, equal protection, and negligence claims, and the
Continue Reading Federal Case Highlights Nuances of Addressing Sexual Harassment Involving Students with Disabilities

Public Act 102-0339 requires each school district’s time out and physical restraint oversight team to develop a plan for reducing and eventually eliminating the use of isolated time out, time out, and physical restraint in accordance with ISBE goals and benchmarks. Last week, ISBE announced the deadline for submitting such plans is July 1, 2022, with yearly progress reports to be submitted by July 1 of each year thereafter. To assist districts in creating their plans, ISBE also released a template and checklist that addresses required components of the plan and aligns with the ISBE goals and benchmarks. Districts
Continue Reading ISBE Releases Isolated Time Out, Time Out, and Physical Restraint Reduction Plan Template and Due Date

The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education recently issued a new Fact Sheet. The Fact Sheet repeats prior guidance that “the responsibility for schools to comply with Section 504 continues regardless of how schools provide education: virtually, in-person, or with a hybrid learning model.” Accordingly, the guidance provides that 504 teams should meet if needed to address changes in student needs related to the pandemic as well as to determine whether compensatory services are warranted. The OCR Fact Sheet follows the Q&A issued by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services last fall, which
Continue Reading OCR Issues Fact Sheet on Providing FAPE During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Addressing the Need for Compensatory Services Under Section 504

In Illinois, as universal masking is fading, the next question looms: what will the end of universal masking mean for staff and students with disabilities who are at high risk? Across the county, issues regarding universal masking have been hotly litigated. In this post, we focus on the issue of mask mandates as a reasonable accommodation for disability needs, and to date, the decisions paint a complicated picture. Districts planning or implementing mask optional plans should consider the needs of students and staff with disabilities who request continued masking of those around them to preserve their access to the district’s
Continue Reading Are Mask Mandates a Reasonable Accommodation?

Over the summer, we reported on the passage of Public Act 102-0339, which aims to reduce and the use of time out, isolated time out, and physical restraint (referred to herein as “restrictive interventions”) in schools. In part, the new law requires ISBE to promulgate updated rules for the use of restrictive interventions, including documentation and reporting requirements, training requirements, and a procedure to file a complaint alleging a violation of the law related to the use of restrictive interventions. In addition, the new law requires ISBE to establish goals and benchmarks for schools to reduce the use of
Continue Reading ISBE Releases New Rules and Goals & Benchmarks Regarding Use of Isolated Time Out, Time Out, and Physical Restraint

In response to the chronic and acute shortage of approved residential placements for Illinois students with special needs, ISBE announced on Monday two steps to provide some, limited relief.

According to a letter from the ISBE General Counsel to the Illinois Council of School Attorneys Executive Committee, ISBE will reinstate its prior practice of reimbursing districts for room, board, and tuition at nonapproved residential schools when ordered by a hearing officer (after the district pays twice its per capita rate for tuition). This change is retroactive to February 2020 when the practice had been discontinued.

Critically, reimbursement is available
Continue Reading ISBE Takes Steps to Increase Access to Residential Placements