Topic of the Month

October 2016
Children with Special Dietary Needs in Schools

In some cases, disabilities may prevent students from eating meals prepared for the general school population. In most cases, children with disabilities can be accommodated with little extra expense or involvement. There are situations which may require additional equipment or specific technical training and expertise. The nature of the child's disability, the reason the disability prevents the child from eating the regular school meal, and the specific substitutions needed must be specified in a statement signed by a licensed physician. The U.S. Department of Agriculture - Food and Nutrition Service offers guidance to schools on this issue. Their guidance document was last updated in 2001 and is currently undergoing revisions.

The 2001 guidance clarifies that the school food service is required to offer special meals, at no additional cost, to children whose disability restricts their diet. This includes modifications to the texture of the food served (chopped, ground, pureed). In order to accommodate a child with a disability, the school must ensure that both facilities and personnel are adequate to provide necessary services. In some cases, a registered dietitian may be consulted or a nurse or trained health aid may need to feed the child. It is not the responsibility of the school food service staff to physically feed a child. For children who need assistance in eating, the determination of who will feed the child is a local school decision of the IEP team. If a child's IEP includes a nutrition component, the school should ensure that school food service managers are involved early on in deisions regarding special meals or modifications.

Schools may, but are not required to, make meal substitutions for children who have a health condition such as elevated cholesterol or are overweight, since these conditions do not meet the definition of "disability". If the school does make the accommodation, a supporting statement from a recognized medical authority needs to be on file. Schools are not required to make food substitutions based on food choices of the family such as a vegetarian diet.

2001 Guidance on Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs


September 2016

Food Allergies in Illinois Schools

Food allergies present an increasing challenge for schools.  Schools must be prepared to provide treatment to food-allergic students, reduce the risk of food-allergic reaction and to accommodate students with food allergies.  The Illinois State Board of Education published guidelines for schools to follow for creating school policies and best practices about these issues in 2010. 

The ISBE guidelines emphasize that school districts have an obligation to seek suitable means of reasonably accommodating a student upon notification and confirmation of potentially life-threatening food allergies and to keep a record indicating that the school conscientiously carried out this obligation.   Each food-allergic student is different and will require a different individualized plan based on a variety of factors.  A representative of the school must meet with the parent/guardian to develop an Individual Health Care Plan to create strategies for management of the student’s food allergy.  This IHCP will indicate what the school will do to reduce risk and to respond to any emergency that occurs during the school day, while traveling to and from school, during school-funded events and while on field trips.

Guidelines for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Illinois Schools

In addition, the Illinois School Code outlines the rules related to self-administration and self-carry of epinephrine auto-injectors.  This most recent law became effective in 2015.  It states that schools must permit the self-administration and self-carry of asthma medication by a pupil with asthma or the self-administration and self-carry of an epinephrine auto-injector by a pupil, provided that the parent/guardian provide the school with written authorization, a physician’s authorization, the prescription label for the asthma medication or a statement listing the name and purpose of the epinephrine auto-injector, the prescribed dosage, and the time or circumstances under which the medication is to be administered. 

Illinois School Code related to Self-Administration and Self-Carry of Medication


August 2016
The Impact of Trauma on Behavior and Learning

"The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects." This is the definition of child trauma from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Children are impacted by the trauma associated with such things as abuse, witnessing abuse, the death of a family member, abandonment, poverty, divorce, natural disasters, terrorism, and violent events. Each child experiences trauma differently based on many factors including the severity of the act, the length of time the trauma took place, the relationship the child has with the person involved, and the age of the child.

When exposed to adverse childhood experiences, there is a risk of interruption of the neurodevelopment of the child's brain. Trauma also impacts children socially, emotionally and even cognitively.

The ACE-Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire is a tool to determine the level of trauma someone has experienced. It has been determined that teachers can expect that 30% of their students have experienced at least four or more of the ten traumatizing events contained in the questionnaire. This trauma can manifest as children who are withdrawn, have frequent absences due to illness, are unable to attach to adults, are unable to work in groups or make friends, react negatively to touch, are unable to focus and concentrate, disengage, are always on edge, are always on the defense, and who easily escalate and go into a fight-flight-freeze state. Having a high ACE score also impacts a child's ability to learn. Students with a score of three or more on the ACE are 2.5 times more likely to fail a grade, score lower on standardized tests, and have language difficulties. These students may struggle with organization, comprenhension, memory, the ability to produce work, and the ability to engage in learning.

In order to gain a different perspective on the behaviors of a child, check out:

The ACE-Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire and information about ACE scores

A webinar presented by Chris Wasik on Trauma: Is This a Behavior or Could This Be the Impact of Trauma?

The video First Impressions: Exposure to Violence and a Child’s Developing Brain produced by the California Attorney General’s Office


July 2016
Does your child think before acting? Stay calm under pressure? Accept feedback without getting upset? Self-regulation skills develop gradually in children. Advances in these skills lead to improved behavior and learning. Self-regulated learners ask questions, take notes, use their time wisely, and assume personal responsibility. Ida Rose Florez notes in Developing Young Children's Self-Regulation through Everday Experiences that "Three teaching strategies are critical for scaffolding children's development of self-regulation: modeling, using hints and cues, and gradually withdrawing adult support." She points out that children need adults who demonstrate appropriate behavior to them, who use simple directions, and who demonstrate appropriate behavior to them, who use simple directions, and who provide "cues about when and how to ask for help, take a break, or try a different strategy". To learn about helping children become actively engaged learners, read her article:
Developing Young Children's Self Regulation through Everyday Experiences

Time-out can be used, not to punish, but according to Tracy Mercier, "to teach students to self-regulate - to recognize when they're getting frustrated or just losing focus, and to give themselves a break so that they can regroup and return to productive learning". She helps children become aware of their triggers and know when signs of tension mean it is time to take a break. She wants children to self-regulate responses to frustration. To learn about her strategies, read: Time-Out & Teaching Self-Regulation


June 2016

Dyslexia Detailed in Illinois Regulations

In the federal regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, dyslexia is listed as one of a number of disorders included as a specific learning disability that may adversely affect a student's educational performance and result in a child's eligibility for special education and related services.

Child with a Disability (34 CFR 300.8)

(a) (1) Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with §§ 300.304 through 300.311 as having mental retardation, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as “emotional disturbance”), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

(c) (10) Specific learning disability

(i) Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

The following information has been added to the Illinois regulations under 226.125 governing specific student populations, effective January 13, 2016:

For the purposes of the Section, dyslexia means a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin.  It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.  These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Each child suspected of having dyslexia or identified as dyslexic shall be referred for an evaluation.

Revised Illinois Regulations


May 2016

Accommodations After High School

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers students with disabilities from age three until the student leaves high school.  Under IDEA, students with disabilities receive specialized instruction and related services.  Accommodations and modifications are provided based on individual needs.  Once a student leaves high school, rights to assistance with educational needs fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

Students have considerably more responsibility in postsecondary education to request their own accommodations.  Programs may request current documentation of the disability (usually data that is less than three years old).  Eligibility is based on whether there is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (walking, seeing, concentrating, listening, etc.). 

It is important that the student’s Summary of Performance (SOP) that was provided by the school district during the last year of school is shared with the college or university.  This document should include the student’s academic achievement, functional performance, and recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting his or her postsecondary goals.  
Summary of Performance

Since postsecondary programs at colleges or universities must not discriminate on the basis of disability, they must provide architectural access, and the aids and services necessary for effective communication and accommodations.  Some examples are:

·         Providing students with information about course requirements, assignments, due dates, etc. in both oral and written form

·         Providing outlines or summaries of class lectures

·         Allowing students to use note takers or to record lectures

·         Allowing extended time for test completion

·         Providing sign language interpreters

·         Rescheduling classes to an accessible location

The accommodations provided under the law are to be at no cost.  However, more intense services such as tutoring, that are not required by law, may be offered for a fee.

The ADA, Section 504 & Postsecondary Education (PACER)
Making My Way Through College-A Guide for Students with Disabilities (NCWD)


April 2016

Cognitive Behavioral Interventions

Challenging, chronic, and severe aggressive behaviors act as impediments to academic success and are threats to school completion.  One validated approach that works well to reduce physical and aggressive behaviors in youth with disabilities is cognitive-behavioral interventions.  They have shown effectiveness across educational environments, disability types, ethnicity, and gender. 

Students are given a “road map” to use as they regulate their behavior.  They receive direct teaching of specific problem-solving strategies, communication skills, and situational self-awareness. 


  • ·         Practice recognizing problem situations
  • ·         Practice describing what happened
  • ·         Are taught the steps of problem-solving through modeling, role playing, self-monitoring
  • ·         Learn to generate alternative solutions for solving problems
  • ·         Learn to identify the most effective solutions
  • ·         Rehearse and implement solutions
  • ·         Evaluate the effectiveness of their choices

Effective Interventions in Dropout Prevention - National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities


March 2016
Communicating with School Personnel

As a parent, you will need to communicate vital information about your child with the school district.  This is usually done informally through in-person contact, phone calls, or emails.  When your child has a disability, you will communicate with school staff informally but will also need to share information at educational planning meetings and possibly through comments in a daily communication log. 

Putting your thoughts in writing gives you an opportunity to take as long as you need to

-state your concerns

-think over what you have written

-make changes, and

-have someone read over the letter and make suggestions before emailing or mailing it.

Some reasons to write letters include:

-to discuss a problem

-to request educational records

-to send a follow-up message

-to provide positive feedback

-to request an evaluation you feel your child needs

-to request a meeting with school staff/the IEP team

-to discuss a need for a change of placement for your child

-to request “Prior Written Notice”


During in-person meetings, CADRE-the Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education, recommends focusing on “interests” rather than “positions”.  For example, instead of starting a meeting by taking the position that your child needs a one-on-one aide, start by reviewing what is working and then reviewing concerns.  These might include needs related to safety, health issues, lack of academic progress, a need for verbal or physical prompts, behavior, attention span, anxiety, etc.  Once there is acknowledgement that these issues exist, you can ask for proposals on how to address the needs.  The conversation may result in a discussion about a one-on-one aide, but there will have been an opportunity to lay out the reasons first and for all the team members to get a better understanding of one another’s “interests” without either side taking a firm “position” first.  



February 2016
Every Student Succeeds Act

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law on December 10, 2015.  It reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and replaces the previous version known as No Child Left Behind.  This federal education law applies to all public school children, including those with disabilities. 

In part, the ESSA:
-REDUCES the amount of classroom time spent on standardized testing, but maintains the requirement that States administer high-quality annual assessments in at least reading/language arts, mathematics, and science every year from third grade to eighth grade and once in high school
-PROVIDES more access to high-quality preschool programs
-ENCOURAGES States and districts to put in place new supports for teachers and school leaders, including increasing compensation
-REQUIRES goals for the progress of all students and ensures that every student subgroup (low-income families, English learners, students of color, students with disabilities) makes gains toward college and career-readiness
-MAINTAINS provisions for a cap of 1% of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who can take the alternative assessment aligned to alternative academic achievement standards

Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act from these organizations:

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Education Counsel
Council for Exceptional Children


January 2016

Restorative Justice in Schools

When conduct at school damages relationships, restorative justice strategies can provide ways to effectively address behaviors without the use of suspension and expulsion.  Restorative justice involves cooperation among all people involved.  The focus is on repairing and restoring relationships.  Each person is treated with respect and parties work together for a mutually-agreeable solution. 

Implementing Restorative Justice – A Guide for Schools is a publication that introduces school personnel to the concept of restorative justice, offers tools to reduce suspensions and expulsions, and offers ways to prevent conflict and restore relationships after conflict arises.  

Implementing Restorative Justice – A Guide for Schools


December 2015
Student Medical Reviews

Federal law requires that a student who is being evaluated or re-evaluated for special education services must be provided assessment in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, the area of health.  The assessment must be comprehensive enough to identify all special education and related services needs including school nursing services and school health services.  This assessment is commonly known as the “medical review”. 

Subjective (parent concerns, student perceptions, teacher perceptions) and objective (vital signs, vision tests, hearing tests, physician or hospital records) information is collected.  Any further assessment that is needed is completed and a certified school nurse reviews the findings and reports to the IEP team. 

If there are no educationally relevant medical findings, a student may nonetheless have some medical issues that need to be addressed by the school. If there are educationally relevant medical findings though, a plan must be developed that provides for educational accommodations, educational modifications, annual goals, short-term objectives, and ongoing evaluation related to the findings.  This plan is developed by the certified school nurse but may be done in collaboration with other IEP team members. 

Illinois Rules about Medical Reviews


November 2015
Adaptations at School

Some students need accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to be successful at school.  These should be clearly outlined in the child’s IEP. 

An accommodation allows a student to complete the same assignment as other students but permits a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response or presentation.  An accommodation does not alter what the assignment measures.  Examples include giving a test to the student in a quiet room or in large print text.

A modification adjusts the expectations for an assignment or test.  It permits a change in what a test or assignment measures.  If a child is tested at a different level of difficulty instead of the grade level standard, that child’s work is being modified.


Adapt the number of items that the learner is expected to learn or complete. Adapt the size of the information by enlarging physically.

Adapt the time allotted and allowed for learning, task completion, or testing.

Increase the amount of assistance for a specific learner - utilize a paraprofessional, another teacher, or a student partner. 

Adapt the way instruction is delivered to the learner. Determine HOW the student learns – visual, auditory, etc.

Adapt the skill level, problem type, or the rules on how the learner may approach the work.

Adapt how the learner can respond to instruction.

Adapt the extent to which a learner is actively involved in the task. (partial participation)

Adapt the goals or outcome expectations while using the same basic materials.  Base this on goals from the IEP. 

For INPUT and OUTPUT adaptations, consider AIM - Accessible Instructional Materials.


October 2015

The venues in which bullying can occur are increasing.  Humiliation and bullying is not only prevalent in the classroom and in the community, but also online, where many youth spend their time.  This can amplify the hurt since an entire online audience is witness to the attacks. 

Illinois law states that “no student shall be subjected to bullying;

(1)during any school-sponsored education program or activity;

(2)while in school, on school property, on school buses or other school vehicles, at designated school bus stops waiting for the school bus, or at school-sponsored or school-sanctioned events or activities; or

(3)through the transmission of information from a school computer, a school computer network, or other similar electronic school equipment.

(105 ILCS 5/27-23.7)

The Illinois law on cyberstalking states that “A person commits cyberstalking when he or she engages in a course of conduct using electronic communication directed at a specific person, and he or she knows or should know that would cause a reasonable person to:

(1)fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person; or

(2)suffer other emotional distress. 

Cyberstalking is a Class 4 felony; a second or subsequent conviction is a Class 3 felony. 

(720 ILCS 5/12-7.5)

You may read these laws by entering the law reference numbers in an online search.

Be sure to join us for webinars on bullying this month and cyberbullying in the near future.  (Register on the EVENTS page.)  These webinars will also be archived on this website once completed.  (Archived webinars are available on the RECORDINGS page.)


September 2015

Least Restrictive Environment for ALL Ages Including Early Childhood

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team of which you are a member, decides your child’s educational placement – where your child will receive the services written into the individualized program.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act presumes that the first placement option is the general education classroom in the school your child would attend if she or he did not have a disability.  If your child needs supports or services in that setting in order to benefit from education, then those services should be provided there. 

The federal regulations state that “Each public agency must ensure that to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”  Section 300.327

Section 300.116(e) states that “a child with a disability is not removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum”.

The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released guidance on September 14, 2015 related to the inclusion of children into high-quality early childhood programs with nondisabled peers. 

View the guidance here: or