Topic of the Month

September 2020

Return to School Preparation Guide

How have you prepared for your child’s return to school this year?  Are there still issues to be addressed about remote learning, in-person learning, blended learning, or some that are related to the instruction that needs to be individualized for your child?  If so, you may want to refer to our “Return to School Preparation Guide” to see if there are any steps listed that might still be useful as you develop an appropriate learning program for your child with special education needs.

This guide walks you through the steps needed to get on track and be able to put important information in writing or send messages related to concerns you might still be having with your child’s instruction and services. 

Remember you can contact Family Matters for assistance in planning and understanding your options.  You can also refer to the Remote Learning/COVID 19 resources on our website at

Return to School Preparation Guide



August 2020

Facilitated IEP Meetings

Would you like someone to attend your IEP meetings to help maintain the focus of the meeting on your child's individual needs and keep the IEP team focused on developing a mutually acceptable IEP? The Illinois State Board of Education offers IEP meeting facilitation at no cost. The facilitator assists with the structure of the meeting, promotes dialogue and encourages participation by all team members. The facilitator acknowledges differing opinions but is not a member of the team. The school district retains responsibility for following special education requirements. The benefits include building and improving relationships between parents and schools, enhancing listening within the groups, and clarifies points of agreement and disagreement to assist in providing opportunities for team members to resolve conflicts. To request a state facilitator for your child's IEP meeting, contact Sherry Colegrove at 217-782-5589 or file electronically at

Preparing for a Facilitated IEP Meeting

CADRE-Center for Dispute Resolution in Special Eduation IEP Facilitation



July 2020

Preparing for an IEP Meeting by Reviewing Records

Each student who has been found eligible for special education services has an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  The IEP is reviewed and updated at least annually.  The IEP document  contains a summary of evaluation results; present levels of academic and functional performance; secondary transition plans (for students 14.5 years of age and older); information on functional behavioral assessments and a behavior intervention plan (if appropriate to the student); annual goals and objectives or benchmarks; a list of accommodations and supports that will assist the student to progress in the general education curriculum; information about participation in testing; and a description of where the special education services will take place.


Parents are partners with school staff in developing annual IEPs.  In order to prepare for an IEP meeting, it can be helpful for parents to review educational records to determine where their child is performing, what has been provided in the past, what progress or lack of progress has been noted in each area, and what services have been effective.  Parents sometimes have all the records needed for this review including the current IEP document and evaluation documentation.  If not, or if new data has been generated by assessments or evaluations, parents have the right to receive a copy of all the records prior to the meeting.  This allows the parent to be an informed participant in the meeting.  This right was recently clarified in the Illinois School Code.  The law now reads: 


105 ILCS 5/14-8.02f Individualized education program meeting protections


Beginning on July 1, 2020, no later than 3 school days prior to a meeting to determine a child’s eligibility for special education and related services or to review a child’s individualized education program, or as soon as possible if an individualized education program meeting is scheduled within 3 school days with the written consent of the child’s parent or guardian, the local education agency must provide the child’s parent or guardian copies of all written material that will be considered by the individualized education program team at the meeting so that the parent or guardian may participate in the meeting as a fully-informed team member.  The parent or guardian shall have the option of choosing from the available methods of delivery, which must include regular mail and picking up the materials at school.  For a meeting to determine the child’s eligibility for special education, the written material must include all evaluations and collected data that will be considered at the meeting.  For a child who is already eligible for special education and related services the written material must include a copy of all individualized education program components that will be discussed by the individualized education program team, other than the components related to the educational and related service minutes proposed for the child and the child’s placement.  Parents shall also be informed of their right to review and copy their child’s school student records prior to any special education eligibility or individualized education program review meeting, subject to the requirements of applicable federal and State law. 


Parents may call Family Matters to speak to an Information Specialist for assistance in preparing for their child’s  IEP meeting at 866-436-7842. 


June 2020

Breaks from Caregiving - Respite

Recognizing that parents need short-term relief and a break from their child/adult family member with a disability, the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities funds respite programs throughout the state.  These programs offer a break for parents by providing funds to pay caregivers who are hired by local agencies or directly by parents, depending on the set-up of the specific program.  The COVID 19 pandemic has meant that children with developmental disabilities have been home from school since mid-March and some adult family members with developmental disabilities have been home during the day due to community day programs closing.  If parents are needing a break so that they can do essential errands or just get outdoors a bit, they can contact their local provider of Respite care to inquire about enrollment opportunities for children or adult family members. 


Contact information for Respite services:

Abilities Plus Inc.


Western Bureau, Henry, and Stark counties


CCAR Industries


Coles, Cumberland, and Douglas counties


Center for Disability Services


Grundy, Kankakee, and Will counties


Coleman Tri County Services Inc.


Gallatin, Saline, and White counties


Community Support Systems


Clay, Crawford, Cumberland, Edwards, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Lawrence, Richland, Wabash, and Wayne counties


Crosspoint Human Services


Vermillion County


Easter Seals Joliet Region


Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall, and Will counties


Envision Unlimited


Adams, Brown, Champaign, Cook, DeWitt, Fulton, Knox, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Mason, McLean, Morgan, Moultrie, Peoria, Pike, Sangamon, Scott, Schuyler, and Tazewell counties




Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties


Horizon House of Illinois Valley, Inc.


Bureau, Grundy, LaSalle, Marshall, Putnam, and Stark counties


Illinois Respite Coalition


Bond, Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Crawford, Cumberland, DeWitt, Edgar, Effingham, Macon, Marion, Moultrie, Richland, and Washington counties


Kreider Services, Inc.


Carroll, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, and Whiteside counties


Opportunity House, Inc.


DeKalb county


Piatt County Mental Health Center


Piatt county


Shelby County Community Services


Shelby county


Specialized Training for Adult Rehabilitation, Inc.


Jackson county


The Arc of Quad Cities Area


Rock Island county


William B. Bedell Achievement and Resource Center


Bond, Clinton, Fayette, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, and St. Clair counties



May 2020

Remote Learning for Students with IEPs

There is no simple answer to the question of what schools need to provide to students with disabilities during the remote learning situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Should there be individualized online contact between special education teachers and their students?  Should that time be for instructional purposes or just checking in?  Will a student receive modified assignments?  Textbooks?  Worksheets? Online-learning opportunities?  What happens to extended school year services?  Will there be compensatory services provided at some point?  These are unprecedented times.  Each school, and even each individual teacher, seem to be approaching the needs of students differently.

As a Parent Training and Information Center, we continue to monitor news from the Illinois State Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Education so that we can keep parents up-to-date as educational issues are decided.  For now, we are directing parents to documents on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website at which includes items such as these:

Remote Learning for Students with Autism and Spectrum DisorderPDF DocumentApril 30, 2020

Remote Learning for Students with Significant Intellectual or Multiple DisabilitiesPDF DocumentApril 30, 2020

Remote Learning for Students Who Are Blind or Visually ImpairedPDF DocumentApril 30, 2020

Remote Learning for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing or DeafBlind?PDF DocumentApril 30, 2020

FAQ?PDF DocumentApril 20, 2020

ISBE Special Education Guidance on Statewide School Closures PDF Document?March 18, 2020

And we want parents to be aware of what the federal government is saying, so we are linking them to this U.S. Department of Education site at which includes documents such as:

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities during the Coronavirus

The U.S. Department of Education has declined to ask Congress for waivers to the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, so we do want parents to be aware that rules related to student and parental rights are still in place.


April 2020

Special Education Cooperatives/Joint Agreements

School districts in Illinois provide special education and related services to the students with disabilities who reside in their district.  Districts may also enter into an agreement with a special education cooperative or joint agreement entity to create, provide, and support their services for students with special education needs ages 3-22.  These cooperatives can provide specialized instructional environments for students with severe or low incidence disabilities, provide consultative services, and/or provide more highly specialized staff to serve students. 

Directory of Special Education Cooperatives and the Districts/Counties They Serve

March 2020

Homebound Services

If your child will, or is anticipated to be, absent from school for 2 or more consecutive weeks, or for periods of at least 2 days at a time multiple times during the school year totaling at least 10 days or more, due to a health (including mental health) condition, your child is entitiled to home services through your school district. This applies to all students regardless of whether or not they qualify for special education services (IEP). The goal is to afford your child experiences equivalent to other students at his or her grade leve. It is designed to enable your child ot return to the classroom without having fall behind.
Home services require a determination that they are needed by a professional licensed to practice medicine. Unless the medical professional feels your child cannot tolerate it, the MINIMUM hours of home services is 5 hours per week. The amount needs to be sufficient so that your child can return to school without falling behind. If your child gets special education services, the home services will need to be addressed in the IEP. 


February 2020
Supported Decision-Making

Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is a way to support people with disabilities in making their own decisions. Rather than an adult with an intellectual or developmental disability having a guardian who makes decisions for them, the person with the disability makes decisions with support from others. People with disabilities use family, friends, and professionals to help them make choices. SDM is becoming a legal alternative to guardianship. The model of SDM entitles the person with the disability to enter into a representative agreement with a person whom they trust to be able to help them make choices and ecisions with the level of support they desire. The SDM model operates on the assumption that all individuals are capable of SOME degree of self-determinations. 


January 2020

Community Residential Services Authority

Individuals with behavior disorders or severe emotional disturbances have unique needs. The Community and Residential Services Authority (CRSA) is a legislatively created interagency body responsible for developing plans of services for these individuals and resolving disputes between agencies and families. They want to intervene before an individual is at risk of extrusion from their home or community.
Their staff provide technical assistance to families to help plan for appropriate, effective services and help resolve disputes. They help parents form working relationships with their child's IEP team and help them address disagreements about funding for services or for residential placement. Their office is in Springfield, IL but they cover the entire state and have regional coordinators who may be able to meet with families and attend educational meetings if appropriate.
Call 877-541-2772 or email if you need assistance with getting agencies to collaborate to provide services or funding for your child with a behavior disorder or severe emotional disturbance.


December 2019
The Seclusion and Restraint of Students in Illinois

The U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on the restraint and seclusion of students in 2012. Physical restraint and seclusion were to only be used when a child's behavior posed imminent danger of physical harm to self or others and were to be avoided to the greatest extent possible without endangering the safety of students and staff. 
ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago tribune did an investigation of the seclusion of Illinois students, looking at school records from the 2017-2018 school year and into December 2018. The findings were published in the Chicago Tribune on November 19, 2019. The article reports that "every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law". They found that children are placed in rooms call "reflection rooms, cool-down rooms, calming room, quiet rooms, etc." and that children "as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger, and beg to be let out. The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens." The article noted that children were sent to isolation "after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos."More than 20,000 incidents were documented and in 12,000 of the cases there was a reason for the time out noted. In more than one third of these, there was no safety issue documented. The incidents in the article are detailed and show the trauma experienced by the children.
In response to the investigation, the Illinois State Board of Education issued emergency rules to end the use of isolated seclusion in Illinois schools on November 20, 2019. Governor Prtizker said "Isolated seclusion will end now. It traumatizes children, does lasting damage to the most vulnerable and violates the most deeply held values of my administration and the State of Illinois. The use of this unacceptable practice in districts around the state for several years is appalling, and I am demanding complete and immediate accountability."
The State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala said "The data and stories from students and parents are appalling, inexcusable, and deeply saddening". She added "The practices of time out and physical restraint have been misused and overused to a shocking extent; this must stop today. ISBE condemns the unlawful use of isolated seclusion, and we will take immediate steps to ensure the traumatic treament described in the investigation never happens to another Illinois student."
The use of isolated seclusion in any Illinois entity is being banned and there is new accountability and transperency practices in place. Emergency rules:
  • Ban all isolated seclusion practices.
  • Allow time-out with a trained adult in the room and with an unlocked door, but only for therapeutic reasons or protecting the safety of students and staff.
  • Ban physical restraints that could impair a student's ability to breathe or speak normally, and institute strict parameters on when physical restraint is allowed. 
  • Require all educational entities to submit data to ISBE on all instances of physical restraint or time-out sued during the current 2019-2020 and past two school years 2018-2019 and 2017-2018.
  • Require all educational entities to submit data to ISBE within 48 hours of any instance of physical restraint or time-out.

Additionally, the Governor's Office will file a complaint on behalf of ALL known cases of isolated seclusion to expedite the investigative process and require a report to be returned within 60 days of the notification.


November 2019

Thinking Through the IEP Process

Reviewing this checklist can be helpful in remembering what an IEP meeting should involve.

IEP Meeting Checklist


            I received written notice of my child’s IEP meeting at least 10 days prior to the meeting date

            (unless I waived my right to notice) 


            I received a copy of any materials that were to be discussed at the meeting at least 3 school

            days prior to the meeting so that I could adequately review the information


In addition to me, and my child if appropriate, the IEP team attending my child’s meeting consists of:


            A general education teacher who is, or may be, responsible for implementing a portion of my

            child’s IEP


            A special education teacher or special education provider of my child (a speech and language

            pathologist fulfills this role if ONLY speech and language services are provided)


            A representative of the district with the authority to make commitments for the provision of

            resources and be able to ensure that the services set out in my child’s IEP will be implemented,

            and who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction and

            has knowledge of the general education curriculum


            An individual who can interpret my child’s evaluation results


            Other individuals, invited by me or the district, who have knowledge or special expertise

            regarding my child (optional)


            An individual qualified to teach preschool children without identified disabilities (if my child is

            age 3-5)


            A qualified bilingual specialist (if appropriate)


            A person knowledgeable about positive behavior strategies (if my child has behaviors that

            impede his or her learning or the learning of others)


At meetings to create or revise my child’s IEP, the team addresses the following issues, in the following order:


            My child’s present levels of academic and functional performance – including social skills (a

            measurable level of how my child is doing in school, the results of recent evaluations and

            testing, etc.)



            Secondary transition services needed by my child in the areas of employment, education,

            training, and independent living skills – including needed courses of study (if my child is, or will

            be, 14 ½ or older during the time covered by this IEP)


            A need for, or the results of, a functional behavior assessment and the development of, or

            revision to, a positive behavior intervention plan to address behaviors (if needed)


            The progress my child made on previous goals


            The goals my child will work to achieve during the next 12 months and the objectives or

benchmarks for reaching the goals (measurable goals written in each area of deficit that are

tied to the general education curriculum and learning standards)


            A designation of the person or people who are directly responsible for implementation of each



            A description of how my child’s progress towards meeting goals will be determined, who will

            assess this progress, and how I will be informed of progress or lack of progress


            A need for assistive technology devices and services (if needed in order to progress toward

            academic and functional goals)


            The aids, accommodations, and modifications needed by my child to make progress toward

            annual goals, to progress in the general education curriculum, and to participate in

            extracurricular and other non-academic activities


            The supports or training needed by school personnel for my child to advance appropriately

            toward attaining the annual goals, participate in the general curriculum, and be educated and

            participate with other students in educational activities


            The assistance or training I need to help my child progress (instruction by staff or opportunities

            to attend trainings, conferences, in-service events, etc.)


            A description of how my child will access extra-curricular and non-academic activities


            A determination of the need for extended school year services due to the nature of the

            disability, the rate of progress on goals and objectives, emerging skills, behavior issues, and/or

            expected regression or delayed recoupment of skills


            A determination of the specially designed instruction (based on peer-reviewed research) my

            child will receive and a determination of when my child will be in general education with no

            supplementary aids; in general education with supplementary aids; in general education with

            special education and related services; or in special education classes outside of general

            education (placement is to be in the least restrictive environment)


            My parental concerns as noted in the IEP document


I receive:


            A copy of my child’s IEP at the end of the meeting



October 2019

Being Part of a Decision-Making Group

There are many levels on which parents can be involved in their child's school, community, county, or state in order to make positive changes. Research has shown that better decisions are made about services for children when parents are involved. Once parents feel comfortable with the processes that have helped make a difference for their own child, they may choose to make a difference for other children as well.

Although MAPS (Making Action Plans System) is generally considered to be a person-centered approach to help an individual plan his or her future, the process can also expand the skills, knowledge and roles of team members who make decisions. According to a manual produced by WI FACETS entitled Serving on Groups That Make Decisions: A Guide for Families (the section on MAPS as adapted from the Family Leadership Project) the five steps to a MAP are:

1. WHO AM I: A description of yourself, including the strengths, skills, likes, and values you bring to the leadership role.

2. HISTORY: A short description of the background and individual circumstances that led to your participation with the decision-making group.

3. DREAMS: A vision of things you would like to see happening as a result of our future participation with the decision-making group.

4. FEARS: A description of your worries or concerns about becoming a team member of the decision-making group.

5. NEEDS: A description of the things that need to happen to help make your vision for the future come true.



September 2019

Factors in Determining Special Education Eligibility

Upon completion of the administration of assessments and other evaluation measures a group of qualified professionals nad the parent of the child determines whether the child is a child iwth a disability as defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The team must draw up on information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, and teacher recommendations, as well as information about the child's physical condition, social or cultural background, and adaptive behavior. A child may be found eligible under the categories of:

  • Autism
  • Cognitive Disability
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Developmental Delay (three through nine years of age)
  • Emotional Disability
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Multiple Disabilities
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impaired
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment

According to the code of federal regulations (34 CFR Part 300 Subpart D 300.306), a child must NOT be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor is lack of appropriate instruction in reading, lack of appropriate instruction in math, or limited English proficiency.

Determination of Eligibility in the Federal Regulations


August 2019

Developing IEP Goals

An individualized education program (IEP) is developed for each student who qualifies for special education services. This document describes a student's educational needs and guides specialized instruction and related services. Each IEP lists the student's annual goals in each area of deficit. A goal is a statement of the intent to overcome deficits. It includes observable and measurable skill ability changes that are expected to be accomplished, given supports, over the next year.

The annual goals are developed by the IEP team, which includes parents and, if appropriate, the student. The goals should take into consideration the student's present level and individual circumstances. Measurable goals allow parents to observe wheter their child is making progress, staying the same, or regressing. Monitoring for progress lets parents know when the IEP needs to be modified and when adjustments to instruction need to be made.

For examples of measurable, appropriate goals, check out our many books on the topic of IEP development under the "education" category in our lending library.



July 2019
Documenting Special Education Services on IEP Forms

When a student qualifies for special education services, information about the student's specialized instruction and related services is documented on an individualized Education Program (IEP) form. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a recommended form to school districts in the state. Some districts use their own form, but it must include all needed information as outlined by ISBE. In February 2019, the recommended form was revised, as was the instructions on how to complete the form.

The IEP form is set up to lead IEP team members through the process of individualizing services for a student. After basic information such as name, address, parent information, etc. is completed, the form moves through:

  • a list of present levels of performance that documents strengths, concerns, academic achievement, and functional performance
  • secondary transition information, including post-school goals (for students 14.5 or older)
  • behavioral assessment data and behavioral interventions (if appropriate)
  • annual goals and objectives/benchmarks (the number of goal pages will vary from student to student
  • a list of educational accommodations and supports
  • information on how the student will participate in classroom, district, and state assessment tests
  • information on accommodations for students who are English Language Learners (if appropriate)
  • an explanation of where educational service minutes will take place for the student (general education with no supplementary aids, general education with supplementary aids, special education and related services within a general education classroom, special education services outside general education, and related services outside general education)
  • documentation of whether a student's behavior was a manifestation of their disability (for students with IEPs who are facing more than 10 days of disciplinary action)
  • and a section to use later to recrod progress on the annual goals

For students with autism, there is an additional section for documenting consideration of communication needs; social interaction skills and proficiencies; needs resulting from unusual responses to sensory experiences; needs resulting from resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines; needs resulting from engagement in reptitive activities and stereotyped movements; needs for positive behavioral interventions, strategies and supports; and those needs related to social and emotional development.

The instruction document goes through the IEP, section by section, describing what needs to be included and how to document needs and services. It can be helpful to parents to look at their child's IEP document while reading the instruction document in order to get a clear understanding of the content or to assist in forumulating questions to be addressed at the next IEP meeting.

ISBE Recommended IEP Form

ISBE IEP Form Instruction Sheet


June 2019

Regional Offices of Education and SAFE Schools

Regional Offices of Education, which are grouped by county or counties throughout Illinois, are administered by Regional Superintendents who are locally elected officials. They are the intermediate agency between the Illinois State Board of Education and local school districts. Services of the ROEs include:

  • visit and inspect school buildings
  • provide safety courses for bus drivers
  • process educator licensure
  • respond to questions, including legal questions, from citizens, educators, and Boards of Education
  • assist with cooperatives special education programs, and vocational programs
  • administer the GED programs administer truancy programs
  • offer Safe School Alternative Education programs

The Regional Safe School Program (RSSP) serves expulsion-eligible and suspension-eligible student in grades 6-12. Expelling or suspending disruptive students puts them on the street, which may increase safety and advance the learning environment inside the school premises, but does not service the educational needs of the expelled or suspended students or the community's need for public safety.

The purposes of RSSP is twofold: 1) to increase safety and promote the learning environment in schools and 2) to meet the particular educational needs of disruptive students more appropriately and individually in alternative educaiton environments. Currently, there are approximately 80 RSSP program sites in Illinois in urban, suburban and rural areas of the state. Each student has an Alternative Education Plan (AEP) and positive outcomes include: reduction in disruptive behavior, regular attendance, coursework completion and credit received advancement in grade level, return to home school, grammar or high school graduation and where appropriate completing a program leading to taking the GED test and passing the GED. Behavior modification training and other counseling, life skills trianing, community service, and work-based learning experiences are aspects of RSSP. Computerized learning systems may supplement the primary academic instruction or may be used as the primary method of instruction. For more information visit


May 2019

Summer Food Service Program

The Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to children age 18 and younger during the summer months in low-economic areas when school is not in session. SFSP sponsors received federal reimbursement via the Illinois State Board of Education to cover the administrative and operating costs of preparing and serving meals. School districts, local goverments, and nonprofits can become sponsors and set up serving sites in schools, parks, recreation centers, resource centers, churches, summer camps, libraries, and other community locations. Former State Superintendent of Education, Tony Smith (replaced by Dr. Carmen Ayala on 2/26/19) said "Losing access to school lunch and breakfast over the summer poses a significant challenge for many Illinois families. The link between sufficient healthy food and our ability to learn and retain information is indisputable." Some Illinois counties still need partners to fill gaps in access to healthy meals. Families can find their nearest summer meals site by calling 800-359-2163 or visiting


April 2019
Sharing Information About Your Child

When developing an Individualized Education Program, parents need to work with the IEP team to develop a plan that takes into consideration their child's strengths. Parents need a way to do this that best portrays their child's unique personality and yet is easily shared and concise.

One way to do this is to share a "Student Snapshot" with school staff prior to, or during, the IEP meeting. PACER Center in Minnesota has developed a format for student snapshots. They include a template for preparing a one-page document that is easily shared.
Student Snapshot

Another important way to individualize supports and services, is to make sure staff are aware of a child's preferences. The Center for Learning and Leadership has developed a guide related to preference indicators. This plan is organized around seven domain areas and is a tools for matching interests in peer activities and selecting providers.
Child Preference Indicators