Recent News

(Posted 06/2/17)
New Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Website

On June 1, 2017 the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs lauched a new website about the federal law governing special education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Features include:

  • a clean, modern, and intuitive design;
  • the ability to search among OSEP policy documents, letters, and memos, in addition to the IDEA statute and regulations;
  • content targeted toward our key stakeholder groups, and
  • enhanced accessibility features, including language assistance supports.


On the site's RESOURCE tab, parents can read articles of interest under the TOPIC AREAS link.

Examples of topics available:

  • Accessibility of Instructional Materials
  • Assessment - State and District-wide Testing
  • Bullying
  • Discipline/Behavioral Supports
  • Early Childhood Inclusion
  • Evaluation and Reevaluation
  • IEPs
  • Parental Rights
  • Secondary Transition


Visit the site at:

(Posted 05/31/17) Helps Parents Organize Records Regarding Their Child's Education

Parents want the best for their children. We do, too. For the first time ever, 15 nonprofit organizations have joined forces to support parents of the one in five children with learning and attention issues throughout their journey. With the right support, parents can help children unlock their strengths and reach their full potential. With state-of-the-art technology, personalized resources, free daily access to experts, a secure online community, practical tips and more, Understood aims to be that support.

Organize your child's school records and information about your communication with the school using the IEP binder suggestions from

IEP Binder checklist

School Contact List

Parent/School Communication Log

IEP Goal Tracker

(Posted 05/31/17)
National Center on Improving Literacy

The National Center on Improving Literacy has just launched its website. The center is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and is a partnership among literacy experts, university researchers, and technical assistance providers. Their mission is to increase access to, and use of, evidence-based approaches to screen, identify, and teach students with literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia.

The resources on the site are divided into those for parents and families, schools and districts, and state agencies. The site includes a list of videos, downloads, and other websites to access.

The resource topics include: advocacy, assessments, auditory processing, comprehension, dyslexia, English learners, fluency with text, identification, interventions, language development, language processing, legislation, phonemic awareness, phonics, phonological processing, professional development, screening, vocabulary, and writing.

Visit the site at:


(Posted 05/31/17)

Special Education Eligibility under "Visual Impairment" 

Any impairment in vision, regardless of significance or severity, must be included in a State's definition of the special education eligibility category of "visual impairment including blindness", provided that such impairment, even with correction, adversely affects a child's educational performance.

Some states were implementing a two-step process for finding eligibility under this category. They were first determining if a child had a condition that the State identified as one that could affect visual functioning and, having found the condition present, then determining if this condition adversely affected the child's educational performance. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehavilitation Services issued a memo on May 22, 2017 explaining that this process might mean that a team could eliminate a child in the first step of the process even though the child might have a visual condition that would affect educational performance. The memo concludes that, while it is permissible for a State to provide EXAMPLES of the types of conditions that meet the eligibility criteria, the team must look at functional vision issues no matter what the visual impairment.

The memo points out that an evaluation of a child's vision status should be thorough and rigorous. The evaluation should look at the child's vision status should look at the child's ability to read, write, do math, use assistive technology, and make progress in the general curriculum. In addition, the evaluation must assess a child's future needs.

For information on visual impairments and how they can affect learning:

To read the memo:


(Posted 03/23/17)
Supreme Court Rules on What Constitutes FAPE - A Free Appropriate Public Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that States provide every eligible child with a “free appropriate public education” or FAPE.  But how do courts define what constitutes “appropriate”?

In Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. V. Rowley in 1982, the Supreme Court held that FAPE was satisfied if the child’s individualized education program was “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits”.  The decision meant that schools were not required to ensure that students achieved their full potential as learners. 

The parents of Endrew F., a child with autism, filed a complaint under IDEA with the Colorado Department of Education because they believed Endrew’s academic and functional progress had stalled and the school’s proposed IEP resembled IEPs from past years.  Their claim that Endrew was not receiving FAPE was denied and a Federal District Court agreed with the denial.  The Tenth Circuit Court also affirmed the claim denial by saying that Rowley required that educational benefit only had to be “merely more than de minimis” and that Endrew’s IEP was calculated to enable him to make “some” progress.  This standard was adopted by other courts and school districts. 

The parents took the case to the Supreme Court and a decision was issued on March 22, 2017 in the Endrew F v. Douglas County Schools case.   The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that an IEP must provide an education that is calculated to allow a student to “make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances”. The standard of “merely more than de minimis” was rejected, but the parents’ request that FAPE is “an education that aims to provide a child with a disability opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities” was also rejected.  The decision does include language from Rowley that an IEP typically should be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade”.

Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District Decision


(Posted 01/18/17)
A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities

As students and youth with disabilities prepare to transition to adult life, we must do everything we can to provide them with the information, services, and supports they need to ensure that they have the opportunity to achieve their goals. On January 13, 2017, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), of the U.S. Department of Education (Department), published A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities. Transition services require a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability within an outcome-oriented process. This process promotes movement from school to post-school activities, such as post secondary education, and includes vocational training, and competitive integrated employment. Active student involvement, family engagement, and cooperative implementation of transition activities, as well as coordination and collaboration between the Vocational Rehabilitation agency, the State Education Agency, and the Local Education Agencies are essential to the creation of a process that results in no undue delay or disruption in service delivery. The student's transition from school to post-school activities is a shared responsibility.

This transition guide addresses the following topics to facilitate a seamless transition from school to post-school activities:

  • Transition planning: opportunities and programs
  • Transition services and requirements, as authorized by IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act;
  • Education and employment options for students and youth with disabilities after leaving secondary school; and
  • Supporting decisions made by students and youth with disabilities.

This guide includes "real life" examples, a sample flow chart of the transition process, and a glossary of key terms used in the transition process.

A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities


(Posted 01/17/17)
Reporting of High School Graduation Rates

Student graduation from high school with a regular high school diploma is an important indiator of school success and one of the most significant indicators of student college and career readiness. Guidance has been issued in January 2017 by the United States Department of Eduation on how schools and States are to calculate their Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) to meet the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act reporting. The guidance clarifies how to count students and what is considered a state-defined alternate diploma, including alternate diplomas for students with the most signfiicant cognitive disabilities. 

The graduation rate data collected by schools and States must be disaggregated for the following subgroups at the school, Local Education Agency, and State levels:

  • each major racial and ethnic group;
  • economically disadvantaged students;
  • children with disabilities;
  • English learners;
  • children who are homeless; and
  • children who are in foster care

UNLESS the number of students in the subgroup is insufficient to yield statistically reliable information or the results would reveal personally identifiable information about a student.

The National ACGR for public high school students increased to 83.2% in 2014-2015 according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. A uniform and accurate measure of the four-year high school graduation rate that is comparable across States and consistently reported overtime is critical to understanding the successes and challenges for schools in ensuring that all students graduate from high schools. This measure can promote accountability and reward success for high schools across the nation.

Every Student Succeeds Act High School Graduation Rate Non-Regulatory Guidance January 2017


(Posted 01/17/17)
Inclusive Preschool/Early Childhood Learning

To reaffirm their position that all young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs where they are provided with individualized and appropriate supports to enable them to meet high expectations, on January 9, 2017, the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs released an updated Dear Colleague Letter related to Preschool Least Restrictive Environment.

A preschool child with a disability who is eligible to receive special education and related services and his or her parents are entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of these guaranteed rights is to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment, with a strong preference for educating children with disabilities in regular classes alongside their peers without disabilities. The term 'regular class' includes a preschool setting with typically developing peers.

A Local Education Agency may provide special education and related services to a preschool child with a disability in a variety of settings, including a regular kindergarten class, public or private preschool program, community-based child care facility, private preschool, Head Start program, or in the child's home. If a Local Education Agency offers no regular public preschool programs for children without disabilities, and a preschool child with a disability is already participating in a private preschool program that is being paid for by the child's parents, the child's placement team may determine that, based on the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the Least Restrictive Environment provisions, placement in a private preschool program is necessary for the child to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment. In such situations, the Local Educatwion Agency responsible for providing FAPE to the child must pay for all the costs associated with the provision of special education and related services in the Least Restrictive Environment, as stated in the child's IEP. The Local Education Agency is to ensure that tuition costs associated with that placement for the period of time necessary to implement the IEP are provided at no cost to the parents.

Dear Colleague Letter on Preschool Inclusion


(Posted 01/17/17)
New Website that Evaluates Math and Reading Programs

Children benefit when their schools choose and effectively implement proven academic programs. The Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University will offer a free website beginning in February 2017 that reviews every math and reading program for grades K-12 to determine which meet the 'strong', 'moderate', or 'promising' levels of evidence defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

On the new website, parent will be able to indicate what subject and grade level they are interested in and will be shown programs that meet the three evidence standards. By clicking on a program title, a one-page summary including a program description, brief research review, and practical information on costs, professional development, technology requirements, and so on will open. Filters may be used to find information on programs with evidence for particular groups (such as African Americans, Hispanics, Whites, and English Learners), and communities (urban, suburban, or rural), as well as program features (e.g., technology, cooperative learning, tutoring). The information gained on this site will provide parents with the data they need to be informed participants in discussions with their schools regarding effective academic program implementation.

Beginning in February 2017, visit:


(Posted 01/17/17)
School Report Cards for Parent Review

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education has issued non-regulatory guidance on how States and local school districts are to complete and disseminate annual report cards on school performance and progress in compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act as of January 2017.

These report cards include information such as:

  • the number of students at each of three or more levels of achievement on each of the academic assessments in math, reading/language arts, and science and how that compares to students in the State as a whole (for all students and disaggregated data for economically disadvantaged students, students from each major racial and ethnic group, children with disabilities, and English learners)
  • graduation rates
  • the number and percentage of English learners achieving English Language proficiency
  • a determination of whether the school is identified for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement and the reason for this identification

These report cards should be designed to:

  • include feedback from parent consults 
  • contain precise and clear formatting
  • avoid jargon not well known to parents
  • link to information provided in previous years
  • embed social media connections for easy sharing


Every Student Succeeds Act State and Local Report Cards Non-Regulatory Guidance January 2017


(Posted 01/16/17)
Guide to Section 504 Protections of Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued a resource guide for parents and educators in December 2016 on the rights of students under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The guide describes the definition of a student with a disability, an overview of a free appropriate public education, information on athletics and extracurricular activities, and guidance on bullying and harassment.  Multiple case scenarios regarding the process for consideration of placement and services under Section 504 are included. 

The guide clarifies that school districts must provide non-academic services and activities in a manner that provides students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation. They must afford qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in extracurricular athletics in an integrated manner to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student.  This requirement means that a school district must make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, or procedures whenever such modifications are necessary to ensure equal opportunity, unless the school district can demonstrate that the requested modification would constitute a fundamental alteration of the nature of the extracurricular athletic activity. The fact that a student has a disability does not mean that the student must be allowed to participate in any selective or competitive program offered by a school district. Rather, school districts may require a level of skill or ability of a student in order for that student to participate in a selective or competitive program or activity, so long as the selection or competition criteria are not discriminatory.

Section 504 prohibits disability-based harassment by peers that is sufficiently serious to deny or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s education programs and activities (in other words, creates a hostile environment).  This guide points out that when a school district knows or reasonably should know of possible disability-based harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.  If an investigation reveals that the harassment created a hostile environment, the recipient must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent the harassment from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.  Harassment of a student by another student (peer-on-peer) on the basis of his or her disability may take many forms, such as a student remarking out loud to other students during class that a student with dyslexia is retarded or dumb and does not belong in the class, or students repeatedly placing classroom furniture or other objects in the path of a classmate who uses a wheelchair, impeding the classmate’s ability to enter the classroom. Note that harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific targeted student, or involve repeated incidents in order for it to be considered discriminatory.

Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools


(Posted 01/16/17)
Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance that informs school districts how the use of restraint and seclusion may result in discrimination against students with disabilities, thereby violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) on December 28, 2016.  OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection indicates that schools restrain and seclude students with disabilities at higher rates than students without disabilities.


OCR uses the following definitions for mechanical restraint and physical restraint:

·         Mechanical restraint refers to the use of any device or equipment to restrict a student’s freedom of movement.  The term does not include devices implemented by trained school personnel, or utilized by a student that have been prescribed by an appropriate medical or related services professional and are used for the specific and approved purposes for which such devices were designed, such as: adaptive devices or mechanical supports used to achieve proper body position, balance, or alignment to allow greater freedom of mobility than would be possible without the use of such devices or mechanical supports; vehicle safety restraints when used as intended during the transport of a student in a moving vehicle; restraints for medical immobilization; or orthopedically prescribed devices that permit a student to participate in activities without risk of harm.

·         Physical restraint refers to a personal restriction that immobilizes or reduces the ability of a student to move his or her torso, arms, legs, or head freely. The term physical restraint does not include a physical escort. Physical escort means a temporary touching or holding of the hand, wrist, arm, shoulder or back for the purpose of inducing a student who is acting out to walk to a safe location.


In general, OCR uses the following definition for seclusion:

·         Seclusion refers to the involuntary confinement of a student alone in a room or area from which the student is physically prevented from leaving. It does not include a timeout, which is a behavior management technique that is part of an approved program, involves the monitored separation of the student in a non-locked setting, and is implemented for the purpose of calming.


The Department’s May 15, 2012, Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document suggested best practices to prevent the use of restraint or seclusion, recommending that school districts never use physical restraint or seclusion for disciplinary purposes and never use mechanical restraint, and that trained school officials use physical restraint or seclusion only if a child’s behavior poses imminent danger of serious physical harm to self or others. The new Dear Colleague Letter and the Question and Answer Document offer additional information about the legal limitations on use of restraint or seclusion to assist school districts in meeting their obligations to students with disabilities.

Dear Colleague Letter

Question and Answer Document

Restraint and Seclusion: Resource Document, May 15, 2012


(Posted 01/16/17)
Students with Disabilities and Charter Schools

On December 28, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities.

The Section 504 Charter guidance:

·         Explains that charter school students with disabilities (and those seeking to attend) have the same rights under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA as other public school students with disabilities.

·         Details the Section 504 right to nondiscrimination in recruitment, application, and admission to charter schools.

·         Clarifies that during the admission process a charter school generally may not ask a prospective student if he or she has a disability.

·         Reminds charter schools, other entities, and parents that charter school students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504.

The IDEA Charter guidance:

·         Emphasizes that children with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents retain all rights and protections under Part B of IDEA (such as FAPE) just as they would at other public schools.

·         Provides that under IDEA a charter school may not unilaterally limit the services that must be provided a particular student with a disability.

·         Reminds schools that the least restrictive environment provisions require that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities attending public schools, including public charter schools, be educated with students who are nondisabled.

·         Clarifies that students with disabilities attending charter schools retain all IDEA rights and protections included in the IDEA discipline procedures.

Joint OCR-OSERS Dear Colleague Letter

FAQ About the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

FAQ About the Rights of Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


(Posted 01/16/17)
Treatment of Students of Color with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education released final regulations under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on December 12, 2016 aimed at promoting equity by targeting widespread disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities.

"Children with disabilities are often disproportionately and unfairly suspended and expelled from school and education in classrooms separate from their peers," said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. "Children of color with disabilities are overrepresented within the special education population, and the contrast in how frequently they are disciplined is even starker."

In order to address those inequities, IDEA requires states to identify districts with "significant disproportionality" in special education - That is, when districts identify, place in more restrictive settings, or discipline children from any racial or ethnic group at markedly higher rates than their peers. These regulations set a common standard for identifying significant disproportionality in representation of students within special education, segregated school settings, and in receipt of disciplinary actions and ensures that school districts where disproportionality is found carefully review their policies and practices to determine root causes and whether changes are needed. They ensure that school districts explore and address situations where the cause of significant disproportionality is due to under-identification of a group as well as over-identification.

In addition to requiring a standard methodology, the regulations shine a spotlight on disparities in the discipline of students with disabilities on the basis of race or ethnicity by requiring states to examine districts for significant disproportionality in their disciplinary practices. Specifically, the regulations clarify that States must address significant disproportionality in the identification and placement of children with disabilities.

Press Release Regarding Final Regulations on Equity in Education

Fact Sheet on Equity in IDEA


(Posted 01/16/17)
Final Regulations Regarding Assessment of Students Under ESSA

High-quality assessments are essential to effectively educating students, measuring progress, and promoting equity. Done well and thoughtfully, they provide critical information for educators, families, the public, and students themselves and create the basis for improving outcomes for all learners. The Every Student Succeeds Act requires that states administer to all students annual statewide assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as assessments once in each grade span in science for all students and annual English language proficiency assessments in grades K-12 for all English learners. The law also includes important protections to ensure that all students are tested, offered appropriate accommodations when needed, and held to the same high standards.

Final regulations regarding assessment provisions were released on December 7, 2016. States must assess all students, including by offering appropriate accommodations for English learners and children with disabilities, and, to the extent practicable, must develop assessments using the principles of universal design for learning, which intentionally reduce barriers and improve flexibility in how students receive information or demonstrate knowledge. Tests must measure higher-order thinking skills, such as reasoning, analysis, complex problem solving, critical thinking, effective communication, and understanding of challenging content. States have flexibility to develop new assessment design, which may include a series of multiple statewide interim assessments during the course of the academic year that result in a single summative assessment score (sometimes described as "modular" assessments).

To ensure that the vast majority of students take a state's general assessment and only students with the most significant cognitive disabilities take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate academic achievement standards, the ESSA limits the number of students who may take such assessments to 1 percent of all tested students in a given subject. There is no cap on individual schools or districts. Consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states must have guidenlines for Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams in determining on a case-by-case basis whether a student is most appropriately assessed with an alternate assessment aligned with alternate academic achievement standards.

The law allows a state to request a waiver of this 1 percent cap and the regulations provide states greater clarity relating to the criteria for approving these requests to ensure that waivers are reserved for exceptional situations, in which states need to assess additional students with the most significant cognitive disabilities with such assessments and that waiver requests provide transparent state-level informaiton on the number and percentage of students, including by subgroup, taking the alternate assessment. Recognizing that a state should do everything it can to ensure students are being held to the appropriate standards and that only students with the most significant cognitive disabilities should be taking the alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards, and to ensure that it is making substantial progress toward reducing the percentage to fewer than 1 percent, the regulations require a state seeking a waiver to have a plan of action to meet the 1 percent limit in the future.

The regulations highlight the critical state role in ensuring that general and special education teachers, paraprofessionals, teachers of English learners, and other appropriate staff receive necessary training so that they know how to administer alternate assessments and make use of appropriate accommodations to support students with disabilities.

Fact Sheet on Assessments under ESSA


(Posted 01/12/17)
21st Century Cures Act

On December 13, 2016, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act which addresses a wide range of health issues. This law strengthens The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (the Federal Parity Law). This law is aimed at ensuring equal access to health care for individuals who experience a mental health condition.

Implementation and enforcement of the Federal Parity Law is strengthened by the 21st Century Cures Act as it includes examples of what compliance and non-compliance looks like, issues guidance on the application of non-quantitative limitations, ensures health plans or issuers will be audited if there have b een five or more investigated violations from complaints, and requires a study on how plans and issuers are complying with the law for parity in health services for those with mental health needs.

Signing of the 21st Century Cures Act

(Posted 11/28/2016)
Final Regulations for ESSA - Every Student Succeeds Act

On November 28, 2016 final regulations were issued to implement provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regarding school accountability, data reporting, and state plans. These regulations clarify ESSA's statutory language by ensuring the accountability systems use multiple measures of school success, including academic outcomes, student progress, and school quality, thereby reinforcing that all students deserve a high-quality and well-rounded education that will prepare them for success.

The regulations allow each state to set its own goals and measurements of progress for academic outcomes. Accountability will be based on academic achievement, graduation rates for high schools and academic progress for elementary and middle schools, progress in attaining English language proficiency, and at least one state-selected indicator of school quality or student succedss. This accountability will be required for subgroups, including a subgroup of students with disabilities.

States must continue to direct funds set aside for school improvement to schools most in need of support. The regulations reinforce the state's key role in providing technical assistance, monitoring, and other support, including ongoing efforts to evaluate the use of these funds for evidence-based interventions to improve student outcomes.

ESSA Regulations - Fact Sheet

ESSA Regulations - Press Release

Timeline for identification of schools needing support and improvement

Final ESSA Regulations


(Posted 11/08/2016)
Homelessness and Young Children

Almost half of children in homeless shelters in the United States are under age six. More than 150,000 very young children stay in shelters each year, and even more are sharing housing with others due to economic hardship. This is particularly troubling given that research suggests that homelessness during pregnancy and in the early years is harmful to children's development.

The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Serivces, Housing and Urban Development, and Education released an interagency policy statement on early childhood homelessness on October 31, 2016. The statement recommends ways early childhood and housing providers can collaborate to better meet the needs of pregnant women and families of young children who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.High-quality early childhood programs provide critical support for children in these challenging situations, in part, by offering security and constancy for children with familiar caregivers and peers. They also identify needs, build trust, and connect families to housing resources. Similarly, the most effective housing providers also identify the early developmental needs of children and connect families to high-quality child care, Early Head Start, Head Start, preschool, home visiting services, or early intervention and early childhood programming.

Policy Statement on Meeting the Needs of Families with Young Children Experiencing and At Risk of Homelessness


(Posted 11/08/2016)
Segregation of Students Qualifies as Discrimination

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Schools are required to educate students with disabilities in the regular educational environment, along with students without disabilites, to the maximum extent appropriate. Schools must place students with disabilities in the regular educational environment unless the recipient can demonstrate that the education of the student with a disability in the regular educational environment cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services.

The Office for Civil Rights recently investigated Yonkers Public Schools in New York and found IEPs that contained no specific reason demonstrating that students could not be educated in the regular educational environment even with the use of supplementary aids and services; IEPs that did not demonstrate that any other supplementary aids or services were considered or attempted; IEPs where there was no evidence that a behavior plan was implemented or other interventions were tried before students were placed in a self-contained education setting; IEPs that did not indicate other settings that were considered; and IEPs that contained no evidence of evaluations or test results that supported the restrictive settings in which students were placed. OCR found that the District's practices were not consistent with Section 504.

On October 20, 2016 the District agreed to implement a Resolution Agreement that requires

  • Sending a memo to all administrators, teachers, and other staff remind them of the District's referral and evaluation process.
  • Sending a memo to all administrators, teachers, and other staff reminding them that qualified individuals with disabilities should be placed in the regular educational environment unless the group demonstrates, in writing, that the education of the disabled student cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with the use of supplementary aids and services.


In determining placement, the District agrees to-
-describe how these interventions were implemented
-provide a statement regarding the amount of time these interventions were implemented
-provide a statement regarding why and how these interventions did not result in satisfactory achievement
-or demonstrate through an educational assessment by a licensed practitioner that the student's disability is SO SEVERE that attempting interventions in the regular educational environment was not necessary

The District is required to train all administrators, teachers and other staff who make placement decisions about the requirement for first placing students in the regular education environment with supplementary aids and services. The District is also required to review the placement of ALL students who have been moved to self-contained settings to ensure that these students were appropriately placed, and if the student is found not to be in the least restrictive environment, change the placment and provide compensatory and/or remedial services.

Yonkers Public Schools Resolution Agreement

Office for Civil Rights Letter to Yonkers Public Schools


(Posted 10/28/2016)
Funding to Improve Literacy for Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education awarded $4.4 million in grants to improve literacy skills, outcomes and results for students with disabilities on October 3, 2016.

"When we improve literacy skills for children with disabilities, including those with dyslexia, we are not just teaching them how to read, we are opening doors to a lifetime of more positive opportunities, such as improved academic skills, reduction in behavioral incidences, increased school completion, and lifelong learning", said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. "These awards will continue to address inclusion, equity and opportunity for all children, including those with disabilities."

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) awarded the following:

  • University of Oregon - A national center to focus on improving literacy skills of students at risk of not attaining full literacy skills due to a disability, including dyslexia.  The center will assist states, local education agencies, schools, and instructional personnel in identifying students and using evidence-based interventions and assessments to improve students' literacy skills. The center will also provide information to families and collaborate with parent training and information centers (like Family Matters) and community parent resource centers funded by the Department.
  • American Institutes for Research - A national center on intensive intervention. It will assist state and local educational agencies in their efforts to support schools and educators to implement intensive intervention to improve academic and behavioral outcomes for students with disabilities who have persistent learning and behavior difficulties. The center will provide technical assistance and disseminate resources to state and local educational agencies and schools to refine and coordinate their system of instruction and internvetion for students who need intensive intervention to succeed in school and be prepared for post secondary opportunities.
  • Three grants for the development of model demonstration projects aimed at improving literacy outcomes for English learners with disabilities in grades 3-5. The purpose of this effort is to establish and operate model demonstration projects that will assess how models can improve literacy outcomes for English Learners with disabilities within a culturally responsive multi-tier system of supports (MTSS) framework in both general and special education settings.

These grants align with the My Brother's Keeper (MBK) initiative, a corrdinated federal effort to address persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential. MBK is focused on six milestones, the second of which is literacy, Reading at Grade Level by Third Grade, ensuring that all children read at grade level by age 8 - the age at which reading to learn becomes essential.

Press Release on Literacy Grants


(Posted 09/19/2016)
Appropriate Use of School Resource Officers

To assist states, schools, and their law enforcement partners in assessing the proper role of School Resource Officers, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released letters on September 8, 2016 emphasizing the importance of well-designed School Resource Office programs. "As educators, we are all bound by a sacred trust to protect the well-being, safety, and extraordinary potential of the children, youth and the young adults within the communities we serve," U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said. "School resource officers can be valuable assets in creating a positive school environment and keeping kids safe. But we must ensure that school discipline is being handled by trained educators, not by law enforcement officers."

The purpose of the letters is to assist districts in revising School Resource Office related policies to align with common-sense actions steps that lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights. The Departments are working to provide districts with effective alternatives to exclusionary discipline practices in order to keep kids in school and out of the justice system.

Press Release Related to SROs including links to Related Materials


(Posted 09/19/2016)
Class Action Lawsuit Related to Children with Mental Health or Behavioral Disorders

On September 6, 2016, a federal judge granted preliminary approval of a proposed settlement agreement in the N.B. v Norwood class action lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of Illinois Medicaid-eligible children under the age of 21 who have been diagnosed with a mental health or behavioral disorders and for whom a licensed practitioner of the healing arts has recommended intensive home and community-based services to correct or ameliorate their disorders.

The proposed settlement would give access to a continuum of Medicaid-authorized mental and behavioral health services based on clinical decisions and medical necessity to these children, including residential services. Annual budget proposals for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will include sufficient funds necessary to develop and maintain the services, supports and structures described in the proposed budget. The judge will conduct a hearing on December 20, 2016 to determine if the settlement is fair and adequate and if it should receive final approval by the federal court.

Proposed Settlement Agreement


(Posted 09/14/2016)
Licensing Teachers Who Teach Grades 5 Through 8

Due to updates to Illinois and national learning standards, all teachers are required to teach more in-depth content that ever before. Students are expected to know more by the time they get to the middle grades Strong content educators are needed for middle grade classrooms, and robust preparation programs specifically focused on this unique age group of students are needed to prepare these educators. The Illinois licensure structure is changing to meet this need. On or after February 1, 2018, NEW teachers of children in grades 5-8 will need a Middle Grades Endorsement which will be earned by completing 21 semester hours of content-specific coursework, 3 semester hours of content-specific methodology coursework focused on the middle grades, and passing the applicable content test(s). Currently educators could add a middle school endorsement by completing 18 hours of middle school content and 6 semester hours of middle school professional education coursework.

The Future of Illinois MIddle Grades


(Posted 09/13/2016)
Inclusive Education Vital - United Nations

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a news release on September 1, 2016 regarding the importance of inclusive education. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities notes that "education of persons with disabilities is often poor quality, sets low expectations and limits learners' opportunities". They added that "by contrast, a truly inclusive learning environment values the contribution and potential of persons with disabilities, and equips them with essential life, language and social skills".

The committee goes on to state that "placing students with disabilities in mainstream classes without accompanying structural changes to, for example, organization, curriculum and teaching and learning strategies, does not constitute inclusion. Rather inclusive education focuses on the full and effective participation, accessbility, attendance and achievement of all students, especially those who, for different reasons, are excluded or at risk of being marginalized".

Sue Swenson, Acting Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services commented on the news release by saying "Sometimes I think we forget that our shared work to develop more inclusive schools is, in fact, the foundation of peace in our communities and in our world".

United Nations News Release


(Posted 09/13/2016)
Accessibility Supports for the Assessment and Instruction of All Students

"Education is a basic right for all children in the United States. With legislation aimed at the inclusion of all students comes the drive to ensure equal access to grade-level standards. Academic standards are educational targets outlining what students are expected to learn at each grade level. Teachers ensure that students work toward grade-level standards by using a range of instructional strategies based on the varied strengths and needs of students. For some students, accessibility supports are provided during instruction and assessments to help promote equal access to grade-level content." CCSSO Accessibility Manual

In August 2016, the Council of Chief State School Officers released the CCSSO Accessbility Manual: How to Select, Administer, and Evaluate Use of Accessbility Supports for Instruction and Assessment of All Students. This manual is designed to provide a framework of universal features, designated features, and accommodations for school administrators and staff as they work with students who need accessbility supports for instruction and assessment. The manual emphasizes that individualized accessbility decisions are to be made thoughtfully and are to be documented in IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and Section 504 Plans. The guide explains a five-step decision-making process:

  1.  Expect Students to Achieve Grade-Level
  2.  Learn About Accessbility Supports for Instruction and Assessment
  3.  Identify Accessbility Supports for Instruction and Assessment
  4.  Administer Accessbility Supports During Instruction and Assessment
  5.  Evaluate Use of Accessbility Supports in Instruction and Assessment


If your child needs accommodations, modifications, or assistive technology supports in order to be successful at school, this manual will show how schools are to design those supports.

CCSSO Accessibility Manual


(Posted 09/12/2016)
School Assistance in Enrolling Students in Health Care

A toolkit was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education on August 31, 2016. The toolkit Happy, Healthy and Ready to Learn: Insure All Children! is meant to assist school districts to identify uninsured children through a routine school registratio process and enroll them in health coverage. The motivation is that healthy children are better learners. The toolkit offers a clear set of steps, useful tools, tips, and lessons learned that superintendents, school districts, teachers and parents across the county can embrace.

Happy, Healthy and Ready to Learn: Insure All Children!


(Posted 09/12/2016)
Georgia Sued for Unnecessarily Segregating Students with Disabilities

On August 23, 2016, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia alleging that the way students with mental health and behavior-related disabilities are served in that state violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state of Georgia finances and operates the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support Program (GNETS) to serve these students. The lawsuit is about the segregation of these students into classrooms, buildings, and attendance centers that exclusively serve only students with this classification and that keep them from interaction with peers without disabilities. U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the North District of Georgia says "The law mandates that all children, including those with behavior-related siabilities, must have equal opportunities for education, and several existing programs within our Georgia schools show that with appropriate support and services, these students can enjoy far greater integration with their peers."

The lawsuit alleges that as a result of the state's unnecessary segregation, students in the GNETS lack equal access to academic and extracurricular opportunities enjoyed by their peers. It alleges that the GNETS students do not receive grade-level instruction that meets state standards and do not have access to gymnasiums, cafeterias, libraries, science labs, music rooms, or playgrounds. The complaint alleges that Georgia failed to provide adequate training to general education teachers regarding students with behavior-related disabilities in integrated educational settings throughout the State and that the exit criteria requires the students to meet behavioral standards that result in students unnecessarily remaining in the GNETS Program when they could be served in general education schools.

Department of Justice Press Release

United States of America v. State of Georgia Complaint


(Posted 08/12/2016)
Students Who Attend Public Virtual Schools

Public virtual schools, although attended online, are similar to traditional schools in that teachers still oversee learning, students learn from curriculums that align with state standards, and the special education needs of students with disabilities are identified and met.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Eduation and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued guidance on August 11, 2016 to ensure students with disabilities are getting the special education and supports that they deserve and is their right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The guidance highlights that each district must implement the evaluation, eligibility, individualized education program (IEP) and least restrictive environment requirements under IDEA. It also clarifies that students with disabilities who attend virtual schools are included in all general state and district-wide assessment programs, including assessments with appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments, where necessary and as indicated in their respective IEPs.

Dear Colleague Letter on Public Virtual Schools


(Posted 08/11/2016)
Repeated Use of Disciplinary Actions

When a child displays inappropriate behavior, such as violating a code of student conduct or disrupting the classroom, this may indicate that behavioral supports should be included in the child's IEP. This is especially true when the child displays inappropriate behavior on a regular basis or when the behavioral incidents result in suspensions or other disciplinary measures that exclude the child from instruction.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that individualized education program (IEP) teams consider the use of positive behavior interventions and supports. These supports chosen should be individualized to the child's needs and based on peer-reviewed research. Examples of supports that schools may use include instruction on, and reinforcement of, school expectations for behavior, violence prevention programs, anger management groups, counseling for mental health issues, life skills training, social skills instruction, meetings with a behavioral coach, or other approaches. Schools should exercise caution in using disciplinary measures that remove a child from his or her current placement, such as suspension. Research has shown that exclusionary measures, in general, are not only ineffective at reducing or eliminating the reoccurrence of the misbehavior but may even be harmful to the child, possibly leading to lower academic performance, disengagement from school, and the decision to drop out.

On August 1, 2016 the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issed a Dear Colleague letter to provide significant guidance for schools to clarify their responsibility to provide children with disabilities appropriate behavioral interventions and supports that are necessary to ensure they have meaningful access to their education.

Summary of the Guidance Letter

Dear Colleague Letter

Rethinking Discipline


(Posted 08/10/2016)
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law in July 2014. Final rules for implementing the law were made available in July 2016. WIOA provides access to services to help people get a job and advance along a career pathway. It improves access to job training and education opportunities for people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment including individuals with disabilities, out-of-school and at-risk youth, youth in foster care and young adults who have aged out of foster care.

5 Things to Know about WOIA

Final Rules on WIOA

(Posted 08/09/2016)
Educating Homeless Children and Youth

The 1.3 million homeless students in the U.S. experience significant academic, social, and socio-emotional challenges. Being homeless is associated with lower school achievement and increased risk of dropping out of school. 

The U.S. Department of Education released guidance to school districts on July 27, 2016 on how to protect and serve students who are homless so as to provide them with much needed stability, safety, and support. The guidance offers new technical assistance on promising practices for helping homeless youth through the implementation of homeless education requirements, especially those now required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

ESSA reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths program which, in part, requires schools to:

  • Identify homeless children and youth
  • Ensure coordination with other service providers
  • Remove enrollment barriers
  • Make sure preschool-aged homeless children have access to and receive services
  • Provide transportation until the end of the school year even if the student becomes permanently housed


Guidance on Homeless Children and Youth


(Posted 08/08/2016)
Equal Educational Opportunities for Students with ADHD
(even when they perform well academically)

Over the last five years, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has received more than 16,000 complaints that allege discrimination on the basis of disability in education program. More than 10% of those cases involved students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who were no timely or properly evaluated for eligibility for special education or related services. OCR issued guidance on July 26, 2016 clarifying the obligation of schools to provide students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder with equal educational opportunity under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also by substantially limited in major life activities such as reading, learning, writing and thinking. It clarifies that students who experience behavioral challenges, or present as unfocused or distractible, could have ADHD and may need an evaluation to determine their educational needs. 

The Department also released a Know Your Rights document that provides an overview of school's obligations to students with ADHD. The document explains that special education or related aids and services should be clear and detailed in a Section 504 Plan, or similar document, so that they can be implemented consistently.

Know Your Rights

Dear Colleague Letter On ADHD

(Posted 7/20/2016)
The Workforce and Innovation and Opportunity Act

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law on July 22, 2014. The vision was that workers would be trained for job positions based on what employers indicated were needed so that jobs would be more immediately available to persons completing training programs. On June 30, 2016, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education announced the advanced posting of the final regulations for the law.

Overview of the Final Regulations

WOIA Final Regulations


(Posted 7/13/2016)
Illinois Meets Requirements of IDEA

When the IDEA-Individuals with Disabilities Act was amended in 2004, each State was required to develop a State Performance Plan to accomplish the ideals of IDEA: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.  Each year States must then complete an Annual Performance Report to show the progress that has been made in meeting the measurable and rigorous targets set in their State Performance Plans.  These reports are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.  An annual determination is made for each State regarding its progress on meeting IDEA requirements. 

When determining whether a State is meeting IDEA requirements, both compliance issues and results data (outcomes) are evaluated.  RDA-Results Driven Accountability brings into focus the educational results and functional outcomes for children with disabilities.  Determinations are ranked in four categories:

  • Meets the requirements and purposes of IDEA
  • Needs assistance in implementing the requirements of IDEA
  • Needs intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA
  • Needs substantial intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA

For fiscal year 2014, the newest year to be analyzed, Illinois “met requirements”. 

Read how each State was ranked and what specific technical assistance or enforcement actions will be taken for States that do not meet requirements over time:


(Posted 7/13/2016)
SAT Replaces PARCC for High School Students

The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law on December 10, 2015, continued the requirement that public school students take a state academic assessment each year during grades three through eight, and once during high school.  Illinois now uses the PARCC-Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers computer-based test rather than the fill-in-the-bubble test of the past to assess students.  PARCC is aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and assesses how well critical knowledge, skills and abilities are being mastered. 

On July 11, 2016 the Illinois State Board of Education announced that, while students in grades three through eight will continue to be assessed using PARCC, high school juniors will take the College Board’s SAT exam instead beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.  Most college-bound students must take an entrance exam for admission.  During ISBE listening tours to obtain insight from stakeholders, it was stressed that there should be equitable access to college entrance exams for all students and that the amount of testing time and the number of assessments administered to students need to be reduced.  Using the SAT as the annual state assessment tool for high school students will eliminate redundancy and maximize the value of testing time. 

“We applaud State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith and the State Board for listening to input from stakeholders around the state and coming up with this common-sense solution,” said Dr. Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. 

Read the news release at

(Posted 6/28/2016)
School Improvement Grants

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $113 million in grants for the nation’s persistently lowest-achieving schools.  School Improvement Grants are meant to increase graduation rates, reduce dropout rates, and improve teacher quality.  The Department awards these grants to states, which then award competitive subgrants to school districts that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to provide adequate resources to substantially raise student achievement.  The School Improvement Grants have supported more than 1,800 schools since 2009.  The schools receiving past grants have seen gains in math and reading proficiency and improved graduation rates.  Illinois will receive $22,114,021, the largest award in this round of grants. 
An Overview of School Turnaround


(Posted 6/8/2016)
Educational Gaps Remain Too Wide

On June 7, 2016 the Office for Civil Rights unveiled new data from the 2013-2014 school year showing gaps that still remain too wide in key areas affecting educational equity and opportunity for students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities, including

·         -incidents of discipline

·         -restraint and seclusion

·         -access to courses and programs that lead to college and career readiness

·         -teacher equity

·         -rate of retention, and

·         -access to early learning


Disparity in student discipline:

·         Black preschool children are 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as are white preschool students

·         In K-12 settings, black students are nearly 4 times as likely to be suspended and 2 times as likely to be expelled as are white students

·         Students with disabilities are 2 times as likely as students without disabilities to be suspended in K-12 settings

·         Students with disabilities represent two-thirds of students who are disciplined with seclusion or restraint although they are only 12% of the overall population


Disparity in access to advanced courses:

·         56% of schools with low numbers of black and Latino students offer calculus; 33% of schools with high numbers of black and Latino students offer calculus

·         Two of three high schools with low numbers of black and Latino students offer physics; less than half of high schools with high numbers of black and Latino students offer physics

·         Black and Latino students make up 42% of students enrolled in schools that offer Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) but they are only 28% of those who participate

·         English learners make up 11% of students enrolled in schools that offer Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) but they are only 3% of those who participate


Disparity in teacher and staffing equity:

·         10% of teachers in schools with high numbers of black and Latino students are in their first year of teaching compared to only 5% in schools with low numbers of black and Latino students

·         11% of black students, 9% of Latino students, and 7% of American Indian or Alaska Native students attend schools where more than 20% of teachers are in their first year of teaching compared to only 5% of white students


U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said that there is a continued need to focus on educational equity, especially in the implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Additional Data from the Report


During the 2013-2014 school year:

·         6.5 million students, 13% of all students, were chronically absent from school

·         More than 20% of high schools lacked any school counselor

·         1.6 million students attended a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor

·         More than half of high schools did not offer calculus, four in ten did not offer physics, more than one in four did not offer chemistry, and more than one in five did not offer Algebra II (considered a gateway class for success in college)


The Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2013-2014 School Year is available at