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Your Student’s Right to Special Education and Accommodation in Illinois

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By Nancy Perkoski

Depending on your child’s needs, he or she may have rights to special accommodations under Illinois Law. It’s always best to consult with a professional regarding your specific concerns. However, the below is a helpful guide and reference point for some of the available accommodations.

Individual Education Program

If you have a child with a disability, that child may be entitled to an Individual Education Program, also referred to as an “IEP”.  An IEP is a plan that outlines your child’s special education instruction, additional support and required services that a student is legally entitled to receive if the child meets the requisite criteria.  An IEP is designed and created collaboratively by the school, the parents and even in certain circumstances the student.  There are a variety of requirements that an IEP must contain to comply with both Illinois law and federal laws. Each school district in Illinois is required to actively monitor and screen all of the children in their district to identify the children within their district who may qualify to receive special education services. Special education is available for all special needs children from birth through the day before the child’s 22nd birthday. Examples of areas where children with disabilities may receive assistance are: hearing impairment, vision impairment, behavior disorders, fine motor skills impairment, gross motor skills impairment, speech impairment, language issues, and cognitive disorders.

In certain circumstances, parents or legal guardians of a student may request an evaluation of their student if the parent or legal guardian feels the student is entitled to receive an Individual Education Plan. Other times, the parent or legal guardian may receive a notice from their student’s school district that a request for an evaluation has been made from a school employee for the student to be evaluated for the need of an IEP. If an evaluation is deemed necessary, the parent or guardian will be notified in writing and consent for the evaluation will be requested. A school district is under the legal obligation to ensure that a full and individual evaluation is conducted for each student being considered for special education services. The evaluation shall be conducted to determine if the student has one or more disabilities; the present academic level the student has currently attained; whether the student’s disability is adversely affecting the child’s education at the present time; and whether the child needs special education services.

There are 14 special education eligibility categories under federal law:

  • Autism
  • Cognitive Disability
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Developmental Delay
  • Emotional Disability
  • Hearing impairment
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impaired
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

To be eligible for special education services, the student must have a disability and that disability must adversely affect the student performance in school.

Response to Intervention

Your child may also be entitled to an RtI or a Response to Intervention. An RtI is a special form of instruction that is designed to help with a specific problem a student may be having in school.  An RtI is specifically tailored to a student on an individual basis. The student’s progress in monitored frequently to ensure the efficacy of the intervention and of the instruction that has been given to the student.   The school will collect data for the individual student using the RtI and the data will be used to design instruction and curriculum and make educational decisions for the student. A student would not be referred to receive a Response to Intervention in the same manner that a student would be referred to an evaluation for an Individual Education Program.  A student would be identified for an RtI through the data for the individual student that was collected and analyzed by the school district. An RtI should include all of the core academic areas such as reading, writing, math, science and social studies. All school districts in Illinois must comply with all of the federal and the state regulations by implementing a scientific research-based intervention program. An RtI is intended to benefit all Kindergarten through grade 12 students. All students including students identified as gifted students, and students identified as English Language Learners (ELL) can be eligible for an RtI.  The student’s parent or legal guardian should be a member of the collaborative team of teachers and employees and the parents should be intricately involved in the data sharing, and all of decision making for the student. The Illinois Statewide Technical Assistance Center for Parents is a valuable resource available for parents and legal guardians of students who have an RtI.

504 Plan

Under certain circumstances, your school district may be required to offer additional support to your student with a disability under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. This Act requires any public-school district to have written policies that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Federal Act is much broader than the Illinois School Code and as such if a student has merely a disabling condition that may not rise to the level of a disability under the State of Illinois Code, Section 504 may still cover the disabling condition even if the State of Illinois law does not. If a student meets the requirements of a Section 504, the school district must provide the student with a 504 Plan that outlines how the school district will support the student with the disability and what the school district will do to ensure that the student is not barred from access to school programs.  To qualify for an accommodation under Section 504, a student must be at least three years of age and may not have reached their twenty second birthday, and the child must have a disability. A disability for purposes of Section 504 is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Some examples of what would be considered a major life activity would be: sleeping, seeing, hearing, walking, learning, breathing, working, and caring for one’s own needs. Attention deficit disorder, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, epilepsy, mental illness, are all examples of disabilities.

We are always happy to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact our office with any questions you may have.

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