Recent News

(Posted 11/2/2022)
Children's Mental Health

SPAN - Statewide Parent Advocacy Network in New Jersey has issued an updated guide on mental health in children. Children's Mental Health: A National Family Guide contains information on getting access to care and what to expect. It lists resources related to getting a diagnosis and medication. SPAN emphasizes that collaboration and education on mental health in the school setting is critical. They explain that schools have a responsibility to identify children who may have emotional, behavioral, and/or mental health challenges. The guide has links to information about special education and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Children's Mental Health: A National Family Guide

(Posted 08/19/2022)
Mental Health Supports for Students

On July 29, 2022 the Biden-Harris Administration announced actions to address mental health issues being experienced by youth. The Department of Education will disburse almost $300 million to help schools hire more school based mental health professionals. The Department of Health and Human Services will award nearly $7 million to schools who say they will design activities to help students access trauma support services and mental health care. Congress has more than doubled funding for the Full-Service Community Schools Program which supports schools that provide, or establish partnerships to provide, a range of wraparound supports for students and their families. These actions, and man more that have been funded, will expand much needed access to mental health services for youth.

Fact Sheet on Actions to Address Youth Mental Health

(Posted 08/19/2022)
Interpretation Services for School Meetings

On June 10, 2022, Illinois Public Act 102-1072 was enacted. It requires school districts to notify parents of their right to an interpreter during meetings related to their child at school if they are deaf or do not typically communicate in English. Previously, schools were required to provide this service for parents during an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting. This law expands that to include multidisciplinary meetings, Section 504 meetings, or mediations. ISBE must adopt rules to establish the criteria, standards, and competencies for a bilingual language interpreter who attends these meetings.

Public Act 102-1072

(Posted 08/18/2022)
Residential Placement Options

On April 22, 2022, an Illinois law was enacted allowing students who need residential placement to be placed in non-ISBE approved school by their school districts when ISBE provides an emergency and student-specific approval. Requests will be approved by ISBE if the following has been demonostrated:

  • the facility demonostrates appropriate licensure of teachers for the student population;
  • the facility demonstrates age-appropriate curriculum;
  • the facility provides enrollment and attendance data;
  • the facility demonstrates that it made good faith efforts to place the student in an approved facility, but no approved facility has accepted the student or has availability for immediate placement of the student.

Public Act 102-07-03

(Posted 08/17/2022)
Physical Education (P.E.) and Adapted Physical Education for Students with Disabilities

On April 7, 2022, the Office of Special Education Programs issued a letter interpreting a school's obligations related to physical education for students who receive special education services. Schools must provide PE to all children receving special education if they provide PE to children without disabilities in those same grades. When a student with a disability's Individualized Education Program (IEP) lists a specially designed physical education program, the school must provide those services directly or make arrangements for those services to be provided through other public or private programs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that services be provided with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the child. Each child with a disability must be afforded the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program unless the child is enrolled fulltime in a separate facility (in which case the child must still receive appropriate PE services there) or the child needs specially designed physical education as outlined in the child's IEP. The law also requires that students receive any needed supplementary aids and services determined by the child's IEP Team to be appropriate and necessary for the child to participate in nonacademic settings.

OSEP letter on Physical Education

(Posted 07/25/2022)
Avoiding Discrimination in Student Discipline

In July 2022, the Office for Civil Rights issued guidance on a school's responsibility to ensure nondiscrimination against students based on disability during the issuance of discipline. OCR explains how compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973's requirement to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities can assist schools in effectively supporting and responding to behavior that is based on a student's disability.

Schools must take steps to ensure that any staff responsible for providing a student with the services necessary to reeive FAPE understand the student's needs and have the training and skills required to implement the services. For students with disability-based behavior that interferes with their own or others' ability to learn, the Section 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program will identify individualized behavioral supports for responding to the behavior and supporting the student. Providing the needed services and supports can help the student engage in learning, build and maintain social relationships, and avoid behaviors that would lead to disciplinary measures.

The OCR guidance includes information on identifying and evaluating students with behavioral needs, making placement decisions, identifying necessary behavioral supports, and the procedural safeguards available to parents. There is information on the assessment of safety risks, on removal to another setting, and on discipline ofr illegal substance abuse.

Supporting Students with Disabilities and Avoiding the Discriminatory Use of Student Discipline under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

(Posted 07/18/2022)
Tutoring to Help Students with Learning Recovery

$122 billion of federal American Rescue Plan funds is available to schools. Among other things those funds are to be used to combat learning loss. President Biden has called on schools to use the funds to provide high-quality tutoring, summer learning and enrichment, and afterschool programs so that students can make up for lost learning. An announcement was made on July 5, 2022 that The National Partnership for Student Success is being launched to provide the nation's students with an additional 250,000 tutors and mentors over the next three years. AmeriCorps, the US Dept of Education, Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center, and leading national education, youth development, and service organizations are launching the National Partnership for Student Success to recruit, train and place screened adults as tutors, mentors, student success coaches, integrated student supports coordinators, and post secondary education transition coaches.

Studies show America's students are on average two to four months behind in reading and math because of the pandemic. A Fact sheet released about this initiative notes that research shows that high-quality tutoring programs can produce about five months of additional learning if they are provided 3 times per week for 30 minutes per day and use teachers and welltrained volunteers. 

Parents are encouraged to engage with their school district on how the district's ARP funds will be spent. This page includes information on how ARP funds are being spent in Illinois:

Fact Sheet on the Tutoring Initiative

(Posted 05/26/2022)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

By July 16, 2022 anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call, text, or chat 988 to connect to trained counselors who will listen and provide support. Persons contacting 988 will also receive additional local community resource connections as needed. The current Lifeline phone number of 1-800-273-8255 will always remain in effect even after all areas of the United States have access to 988.

(Posted 05/26/2022)
Five Mental Health Days for Students

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a 24% increase in the number of mental health emergency visits by kids ages 5-11 and a 31% increase for kids 12-17. In August 2021, Illinois passed a law that change the school code at 105 ILCS 5/26-1(2) allowing students to take 5 days each school year for mental or behavioral health reasons without needing a doctor's note. The students are allowed to make up any school work missed during the absence. This law took effect January 1, 2022. The school may refer the student to a school counselor or other appropriate school personnel after the second mental health day is used.

Public Act 102-0321

(Posted 05/25/2022)
Definition of Autism

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM, is published by the American Psychiatric Association and describes and lists of hundreds of mental health diagnoses, conditions, and social problems. 

The DSM IV was published in 1994. in the 1997 edition of the DSM IV, the DSM IV TM, Pervasive Developmental Disorders included Autistic Disorder, Rett's Disorder, Childhood Integrative Disorder, Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

Rhw SAM 5 came out in 2013. In this version it was noted that individuals with a well-established DSM IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The diagnositc criteria for autism spectrum disorder included persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. It was noted that symptoms had to be present in the early developmental period; cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning; and not be better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay. There were three severity levels listed: Level 1 Requiring Support; Level 2 Requiring Substantial Support; and Level 3 Requiring Very Substantial Support. For each level, there was a description of social communication and of restricted, repetitive behaviors associated with that level of support need.

In the DSM 5 TR, released in March 2022, there were only small changes made to add clarity to the autism definition. The DSM 5 indicated that an autism diagnosis requires "persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manfiested by the following: deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships". The DSM 5 TR just changes "as manifested by the following" to "as manifested by all of the following". This change clarifies that the diagnosis requires all the deficits to be present. 

The second change is that clinicians were to specify if a person's autism is "associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental or behavioral disorder". This now says "associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental or behavioral problem". With this change, co-occurring problems do not have to be a distinct "disorder".

(Posted 5/25/2022)
Strengthening Section 504 in Schools

Students who need accommodations at school based on a diagnosis or condtion that significantly impacts a major life activity such as learning, focusing, breathing, walking, etc., have a Section 504 Plan put in place to ensure equal access to learning and functioning in the school setting. Students receive support under a Section 504 Plan when they do not need speical education services that include specialized instruction and related services as a student with a disability under IDEA in order to benefit from education, but still need support to receive equal access. Students with 504 Plans may be students with ADHD, diabetes, asthma, orthopedic issues, mental health needs, reading difficulties, etc. The accommodations provided can include such things as being exempt from physical education class, sitting near the teacher, doing every other math problem for homework, access to large print items, taking tests in special formats, getting outlines of classroom discussions, etc. 

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a disability civil rights law, prohibits discrimination in public and private programs that receive federal assistance, including schools and colleges. The Office for Civil Rights has worked to eliminate discrimination in schools by investigating complaints alleging violations of regulations to this law since 1977. There has been a wide variation in how district's meet the regulations.

The U.S. Department of Education is soliciting public commen ts on how to best improve these regulations to assist students. These could include such things as more parent participation in the 504 Plan process, more school accountability, and more specific wording on who qualifies and what accommodations could look like. The department would appreciate comments be received by the end of June 2022, but will continue to take comments until any notice of proposed rulemaking is reviewed.

Submit Comments on Updating Section 504 Regulations

(Posted 3/15/2022)
Masking in Schools

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel A. Cardona, Ed.D., issued a letter to School and Early Childhood Communities on February 25, 2022 discussing the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention framework that creates COVID-19 community levels that account for the severity of COVID-19 and the capacity of health care systems to respond. This letter notes that masking guidelines for school and early care settings now follow the same guidelines for the community in which they are located. This change includes masking on buses. Previously universal masking was recommended for all education and child care settings.

Letter from Secretary Cardona

(Posted 3/14/2022)
Actions to Address People with Disabilities in Response to and Recovery from COVID-19

The White House issued a fact sheet on February 24, 2022 addressing the unique needs of individuals with disabilities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The issues address in the fact sheet include plans to:

  • Equip schools with guidance and support to keep vulnerable students safe and learning in-person. (The fact sheet directs parents to use their Parent Training and Information Center of which Family Matters is one of the two in Illinois.)
  • Expand the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living's Disability Information and Access Line to support people with disabilities who face difficulty using or cannot use a self-test.
  • Launch new COVID-19 guidance in American Sign Language and review all existing COVID-19 guidance to confirm accessibility for all disabled individuals.
  • Execute a new effort to develop at-home COVID-19 tests that are accessible to all.
  • Incentivize all at-home test manufacturers to prioritize accessibility of at-home tests.
  • Request accessible instructions from manufacturers who have received a Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization.
  • Distribute masks to disabled individuals through community-based organizations and jurisdictions.
  • Call on states to directly distribute high-quality masks through community-based organizations serving individuals with disabilities.

White House Press Release

(Posted 2/25/2022)
Services for Students with Disabilities Enrolled in College

The website is about understanding and making the world a better place for those who learn and think differently. Their team recently posted an article entitled 7 Things To Know About College Disability Services. This article explains that there are no Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in college but that colleges do have disability services. They explain that students need to register as a student with a disability in order to get accommodations and that this will include proof of a disability.

7 Things to Know about College Disability Services by

(Posted 2/23/2022)
Compensatory Services for Students with Disabilities Who Missed Services during the Pandemic

On February 16, 2022, the Office for Civil Rights issued a fact sheet about compensatory services under Section 504.  This document was issued to remind public schools that appropriate evaluations and services must be provided to students with disabilities during the pandemic and that they may need to provide compensatory services to some students.

The fact sheet states that “Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for schools, students, and parents, the responsibility for schools to comply with Section 504 continues regardless of how schools provide education: virtually, in-person, or with a hybrid learning model”.  If a student with a disability did not receive appropriate evaluations or services, including the services that the school had previously determined they were entitled to, then the fact sheet notes that “the school must convene a group of persons knowledgeable about the student to make an individualized determination whether, and to what extent, compensatory services are required”.  Compensatory services are a way for schools to remedy the injury caused by a lack of services. 

In determining the appropriate type and amount of compensatory services, the fact sheet lists factors that may be relevant:

  • the frequency and duration of missed instruction or related services;
  • whether special education and/or related services that were provided during the pandemic were appropriate based on the student’s individual needs;
  • a student’s present level of performance;
  • previous rates of progress;
  • the results of updated evaluations;
  • whether evaluations were delayed; and
  • any other relevant information.


Parents who feel compensatory services are warranted but have been denied those services may file a complaint at


Fact Sheet:  Providing Students with Disabilities Free Appropriate Pubic Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic and Addressing the Need for Compensatory Services under Section 504

(Posted 2/18/2022)
In Person Learning for ALL Students

On February 5, 2022, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health revised public health guidance for schools.  Part 5-Supporting Fully In-Person Learning for All Students states that “the majority of students need full-time in-person access to their teachers and support network at school to stay engaged, to learn effectively, and to maintain social-emotional wellness”.   It adds that “remote learning can be challenging for many students, leading not only to learning loss, but also worsening mental health for children as well as parents”.  At the time of this revision masks were still to be worn by teachers, staff, students, and visitors inside schools.  Doctors can provide exceptions for students who are medically unable to tolerate a face covering because of a medical condition or disability.  Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan who are unable to wear a face mask or face shield due to a medical contraindication may not be denied access to an in-person education if the school is offering in-person education to other students.  At the time of this revision, teachers were also still required to be fully vaccinated or do at least weekly testing.  This document outlines how schools are to employ contact tracing and exclusion of students and staff consistent with public health guidance or requirements including the use of a Test-to-Stay protocol. 

Supporting Fully In Person Learning for All Students

(Posted 2/16/2022)
College Courses During High School - Do IEP Services Apply

A letter from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special and Rehabilitative Services, dated January 26, 2022, states that "If under State law, attending classes at a postsecondary institution, whether auditing or for credit, is considered secondary school education for students in grade 12 or below and the education provided meets applicable State standards, those services can be designated as transition services on a student's IEP and paid for with IDEA Part B funds, consistent with the student's entitlement to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

This letter goes on to say that "The IEP Team for a student who has not graduated from high school with a regular high school diploma has the full range of options available to provide FAPE, including providing appropriate transition services "to facilitate the child's movement from school to post-school activities, including post secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, special education and related services continue to be the responsibility of the child's school district regardless of the location of the services.

OSERS Letter January 26, 2022

(Posted 2/16/2022)
ABLE Accounts

A 2014 law allows individuals with disabilities to save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for government benefits including Medicaid. The amount of money that people with disabilities can save annually was raised for 2022 from $15,000 to $16,000. Disability Scoop, a source for news about developmental disabilities, issued an article by Michelle Diament on January 3, 2022 on this issue.

IRS Raises Limit for ABLE Accounts

(Posted 2/16/2022)
Graduation Requirements in Illinois

As an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for students ages 14 1/2 and older, transition services are outlined. Transition services should include appropriate measurable post-secondary goals that are based on age-appropriate transition assessments. The IEP team will identify a course of study that is a long-range educational plan or multi-year description of the educational plan or multi-year description of the educational program that directly relates to the student's anticipated post-school goals, preferences and interests. Planning includes courses leading to graduation and experiences that move the student toward post-school goals. In considering what is appropriate for a course of study. parents may need to have an understanding of the current graduation requirements, so that an informed discussion can take place regarding how the student can meet requirements when given appropriate accommodations and modifications. The Illinois State Board of Education updated the graduation requirement list as of December 2021.

Illinois Graduation Requirements

(Posted 9/16/2021)
Tax Benefits Related to Educational Costs

On August 31, 2021, the Illinois Department of Public Revenue issued a reminder for taxpayers that they may be eligible to claim school expenses for their K-12 students on their 2021 Illinois individual income tax returns. 

Qualified educational expenses include tuition, and book and lab fees in excess of $250. The total credit may not exceed $750. Tax benefits are also available for families whose children are homeschooled.

Media Release from the Illinois Department of Revenue

(Posted 9/16/2021)
Accessibility Features to be Available for Online Learning for Students with Disabilities

When students with some disabilities use digital education tools, there can be accessibility issues. Governor Pritzker stated that "we need to be sure that these tools are properly became Public Act 102-0238 on August 2, 2021, it guaranteed that accesbility features such as text-to-speech, captions for videos, text alternatives for non-text content, and color-blind alternatives will be standard in the curriculum of public and private k-12 schools starting August, 1 2022.

Illinois Public Act 102-0238