Topic of the Month


October 2020

Becoming an Educational Advocate

As a Parent Training and Information Center, our most important service at Family Matters is to offer individualized assistance to parents of children with disabilities so that they understand their rights and responsibilities related to special education.  We help them review their child’s school records in order to better understand the individualized services their child is receiving and the data that supports those services.  With increased knowledge and ongoing support, many of the parents who work with us are able to communicate effectively with their schools and navigate through the special education process. 

Some parents also want to enlist assistance from an educational advocate.  An educational advocate assists parents as they work with school staff to plan, review, and assess the individualized education program for their child.  Some educational advocates are themselves parents of children with disabilities.  Some have backgrounds in the educational field.  Some assist parents at no cost and others offer assistance for a fee. 

Before choosing an advocate, we suggest reading Educational Advocates: A Guide for Parents from CADRE-The National Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education.

At Family Matters we offer an annual 33-hour course for volunteer educational advocates.  The course runs for 11 weeks on Thursday evenings and begins in January.  Check out our website in December to register at  This is a free course that covers ESSA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, IDEA, evaluation, eligibility, IEPs, Least Restrictive Environment, Functional Behavior Assessment, Behavior Intervention Plans, discipline, assistive technology, Extended School Year, Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, secondary transition, various disabilities, evidence-based interventions, procedural safeguards, cultural and linguistic diversity in families, and ways to impact legislative change. 

The Arc of Illinois also offers a curriculum of eight modules with the basic information needed to navigate the special education system, including early intervention services, IEPs, Section 504, and more. The Arc@School Advocacy Curriculum is offered for a small fee.  


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