Special Education Law Insights

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. First Red Flag: The parents requested “strict” confidentiality when disclosing to…
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…
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…
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…
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…
*Also authored by Mikaila John   The COVID-19 pandemic has presented hardships for all students and school leaders, and it has been particularly challenging for students with disabilities and their IEP teams. Over the last nine months,  districts and schools have been trying to figure out the most practical and effective ways to deliver special education and related services in a remote and hybrid learning environment. At the same time, a growing number of parents have brought due process complaints and state complaints to challenge the adequacy of those services. As those cases slowly work their way through the system, we…
Over the past year, the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools has come under increased scrutiny. While ISBE issued emergency rules at the end of last November, followed by a series of updates and then final rules in April 2020, state and federal legislators have also been working on proposed laws that would both limit the use of physical restraint and seclusion and require plans to decrease the use of these techniques over time. The Illinois legislation, Senate Bill 2315, was introduced last November. After input from stakeholders and various revisions, the bill appeared ready to move during…
While much of the talk about Biden’s education agenda has quickly turned to who he will appoint to replace Betsy DeVos and how he will manage the COVID-19 pandemic, both critical issues for sure, we wanted to highlight Biden’s agenda related to special education. In his campaign, Biden made several important statements about his aims on this topic. Most importantly, he supports full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law provides for federal funding up to 40% of the average per pupil expenditure, but actual expenditures fall far short of that mark. The federal…
OCR recently published a Q&A document providing expectations for compliance with civil rights laws during the pandemic. While OCR is not responsible for enforcing the IDEA, it is responsible for Section 504. Because students with IEPs are generally also protected by Section 504, the new guidance is applicable to students both with Section 504 plans and with IEPs. At the same time, OSEP published a Q&A document providing guidance specifically related to the IDEA. Much of the guidance will sound familiar, but you may find a few surprises. OCR Q&A Return to in-person instruction. OCR advises there may be circumstances…
Now that many of us have been doing some form of remote learning for close to 7 months, we are starting to see hearing officers and state agencies weigh in to resolve complaints related to the appropriateness of remote special education services. While we have not yet seen any Illinois decisions, a review of decisions from other states may shed some light on trends and approaches. Read on for a sample of recent cases and takeaways that may be relevant to your school. Participation in Remote Learning In a due process case in Washington, DC, the student had previously been…
While only a handful of cases have been reported related to districts’ provision of special education services remotely, we are watching carefully for lessons learned. So far, courts have not required in-person instruction as stay-put, but have indicated the importance of providing remote services tailored to student needs. These early cases reinforce our guidance to make individualized decisions to meet student needs in these extraordinary circumstances. Further, documenting these determinations in an individualized remote learning plan that is incorporated into the student’s IEP can help guard against both procedural and substantive challenges. The first case comes from the District of…
Schools planning for students to return to campus in person this fall are confronting many significant challenges, including how to support students who may need physical restraint while also maintaining safe practices to minimize the risk of Coronavirus transmission. Schools and IEP teams should start planning to address this issue, such as considering whether additional PPE is needed, whether alternative behavior strategies and interventions could be effective, and whether other changes to the student’s  IEP, including placement, may be warranted to safely provide the student an appropriate education. Additionally, staff need training to understand and comply with the new physical
ISBE and IDPH recently released their guidance related to Starting the 2020-21 School Year. The guidance addresses a broad range of topics, including some suggestions related to special education. The following week ISBE issued an FAQ targeting special education issues.  While many details remain to be worked out at the local level, here are our key takeaways related to placing a high priority on returning students with disabilities to in-person instruction, addressing the needs of medically fragile students, continued remote learning versus homebound instruction, face coverings, and the many demands and challenges facing IEP teams. First, ISBE states that…
On June 30, 2020, ISBE issued an FAQ document with the purpose of assisting school districts in the transition to in-person instruction. This document, which supplements ISBE’s general guidance on return to in-person instruction during Phase 4, does not include waivers or offer flexibility on existing rules. Rather, it summarizes past and current recommendations in a potpourri of categories including (1) ESY, (2) compensatory services, (3) evaluations, (4) class sizes, (5) homebound services, (6) health and safety factors, (7) IEP meetings/mediations/hearings, (8) delivery of special education instruction and related service, and (9) rules related to private special education schools. An…
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:   Determine effective and efficient methods to inform parents that they can select how they want to receive draft documents prior to eligibility and IEP meetings and collect their responses. Options must include regular mail and picking up the documents at the school. Other…
Less than a year ago, Public Act 101-0515 sent Illinois special educators scrambling to comply with an array of new procedural requirements. Now, as if you aren’t dealing with enough challenges related to remote learning and preparing for the unknowns of next school year, Senate Bill 1569, which would make changes in each of the areas impacted by the original Act, just passed in the legislature. While some of the changes provide helpful clarification, others would bring new requirements of which schools need to be aware. Existing Law  The original Act required schools to do the following: Provide parents…