Topic of the Month

May 2023

Summer Learning

The end of another school year is approaching. As a parent or caregiver you may wonder how to continue to work on IEP goals and continue your child’s learning over the summer break. You may consider reviewing your child’s IEP to see how you can incorporate working on these goals throughout the summer. Speaking with IEP team members may also prove helpful. There are many resources available to help you continue your child’s learning over the summer

Summer Learning- How to Help Your Chikd Keep Skills Strong:

Download- Summer Reading Logs & Planners:

How to Work on Your Child's IEP Goals Over the Summer:

April 2023 

Preparing Families for Transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood Services 

Any transition in life brings about change and change can be difficult. The transition from Early Intervention to Early Childhood services brings change and new experiences for families. Preparing for this transition can help make the transition process smoother. Early Intervention staff are there to help prepare families during the transition process and school staff are there to help families navigate the process of special education which is new to them. When preparing for this transition in services families gain knowledge and will gain more of an understanding of their families rights. There are many resources that can help families during this process.

Transition from Early Intervention to School Services at Age Three:

Illinois Early Intervention Extended Services:

When I’m 3, Where Will I Be?

Early Intervention to Early Childhood Special Education Transition Frequesntly Asked Questions:

Transition at Age 3: Who, What, Where, Why, and When:

Transition: Understanding Family Rights:

Transition at Age 3: Leaving the Early Intervention Program:




March 2023 

Promoting Independence, Preparing for Transition from High School to Adult Life

It is never too soon to begin preparing for a student’s life after high school. Transition from high school to adult life is a big transition in the life of a student and especially so in the life of a student who has a disability. So many supports and services are put into place during the student’s school career. When a student has an IEP a group of team members come together as a community with the common goal of working toward helping that student reach their full potential. When a student receives their diploma or certificate of attendance the services at school are discontinued. Adult services are not automatically guaranteed so it is important to for families and students to be prepared for the transition to adult life. Transition planning is an important part of a student’s IEP. Transition planning helps students prepare for life after high school. In Illinois transition planning must start by 14 ½. Transition planning can cover daily life skills, job skills, and even planning for college.  Transition planning helps connect families and students with adult service providers so the transition from school to adult life goes as smoothly as possible.

Parents Raising Strong Self-Advocates: 

30 Minute Message - Last Year of High School (What to Know about the Summary of Performance):

Advocating for Appropriate Transition Assessments and Services:

Your Child's Right to Appropriate Transition Services:

Your Child's Right to Appropriate Transition Services:


February 2023

Progress Monitoring 

Monitoring progress is important in so many areas of life. Monitoring progess  tells us how close we are to meeting our goal and wether we need to make adjustments along the way. Progress monitoring is important for students who receive special education and related services through an IEP. When a student has an IEP, goals are written to tell where the student is right now and where the team sees the student in a year from the date the IEP is written. When goals are written it is important to determine how progress will be monitored. Progress can be monitored by collecting data from a variety of sources. Observation can be conducted by school staff or parents to determine if the student is gaining skills and getting closer to meeting their goals. IEP team members can look at data to detetrmine progress. Data collected can include monitoring grades from homework, tests or quizzes.Evaluations or assessments also provide data to show where a student is at and how much progress has been made, Evaluations and assessments can be completed by the school or even outside of the school. School staff and parents / caregivers can communicate with the student to determine how they feel about reaching their goals. The student's classmates or peers may also be able to share input on how they see the student progressing towards their goals.
4 Simple Ways to Monitor Progress:

IEP Goal Tracker:


January 2023 

Executive Functioning Skillls

Difficulties with executive function impact a person’s at home, school and in life. People use executive functioning skills daily in learning, working, and just to manage day to day life. When someone struggles with executive functioning skills it can be difficult to focus and to follow directions. It may be difficult for someone to manage their emotions. There are ways to address difficulties with executive functioning skills at school. 



December 2022

Soft Skills & How to Incorporate These Skills into Your Child’s IEP.

Soft Skills are skills that characterize how a person interacts with other people. Soft skills are an important factor when getting and keeping a job.  Soft skills are often overlooked when developing a student’s IEP but can be the key to successful employment.  Students who struggle with interaction skills need IEP goals that target the development of these soft skills. 


Soft Skills include abilities in the areas of:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Networking
  • Problem solving
  • Professionalism


When students receive special education and related services the skills can be incorporated in the student’s IEP. Incorporating these skills in the IEP are helpful in preparing the student for life after school.


November 2022

Learning is Social and Emotional

Learning is social and emotional. Academic, social, and emotional learning can take place together. Concrete ways to address all aspects of a child's development encourages growth. Aspen Institute has developed a tool with guiding questions to select, discuss, and potentially improve the following concepts or skills:

  • Relationships
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Persistence

 Learn more about the social and emotional aspects of learning:

How Learning Happens - Family and Caregiver Conversation Tool


October 2022

Teaching Self-Determination

As students approach the end of school services, it is important that they communicate their ideas during meetings where educational services are developed to support them.  They can express what they want to currently work on, what is concerning them about school services, how they learn best, what they need to be successful, and what they want their adult life to look like.   Being a good self-advocate starts with learning self-determination.  Self-determination can be fostered from a very young age.


Vanderbilt University offers a guide on Fostering Self-Determination in Your Children-Ideas from Parents for Parents.  This guide has sections on how to:

  • Foster Choice Making
  • Support Decision Making
  • Encourage Problem Solving
  • Promote Goal Setting and Planning
  • Reinforce Self-Directed Behaviors
  • Foster Responsibility
  • Promote Independence
  • Support Self-Awareness and Self-Knowledge
  • Encourage Self-Advocacy and Leadership
  • Support Communication
  • Encourage Participation
  • Foster Relationships and Social Connections
  • Model Important Skills and Behaviors
  • Provide Reinforcement and Feedback
  • Partner with Schools
  • Hold High Expectations and Positive Attitudes
  • Connect with Others


Fostering Self-Determination in Your Children-Ideas from Parents for Parents



September 2022

Avoiding Discrimination against Students with Disabilities When Imposing Discipline at School

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can investigate cases of discrimination against students who are eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Edcation Act (IDEA) or those eligible for supports under Section 504. In July 2022 the Office for Civil Rights issued Supporting Students with Disabilities and Avoiding the Discriminatory Use of Student Discipline under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This document explainsthe evaluation and eligibility determination process for students who are exhibiting challenging behaviors. It emphasizes that for student's whose behavior is caused by or directly related to their disability, the school must identify individualized services, such as behavioral supports, to meet the student's education needs.  Examples of these services are "regular group or individual counseling sessions, school social worker services, school-based mental health services, physical activity, and opportunities for the student to leave class on a scheduled or unscheduled basis to visit a counselor or behavioral coach when they need to an space to "cool down" or self-regulate".

Discrimination occurs when placement options are not indvidualized but instead are a one-size-fits-all placement decision that requires students with a particular disability to attend a separate class, program, or school. It is also discriminatory to shorten the length of the student's school day without making an individual determination about the student's needs, using information from a variety of sources. School districts must evaluate students prior to any significant change of placement. If the change of placement is for a disciplinary removal, a manifestation determination meeting is held to decide whether the behavior was based on the student's disability. If it is determined that the behavior was related, the school is prohibited from carrying out any discipline that would deny the student equal educational opportunity by excluding the student. A change of placement may be considered if additional or different services and supports in the current setting would not be effective. If the behavior is determined not to be disability related, the school may discipline the student in the same manner as students without disabilities.

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


August 2022

Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities

An assistive technology "device" means any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability. Some assistive technology is very low tech (pencil grips, slant boards, etc.) and some is high tech. Students with disabilities are to be provided assistive technology as needed to ensure FAPE (a Free, Appropriate, Public Education). To determine a child's need for AT, the IEP team considers the child's goals and ability to access the curriculum. For some students AT may be needed at home in order for the child to make progress on IEP goals. Once an AT device is determined necessary for the student, the district must implement procedures for obtaining the device without unnecessary delay.

Students are also to receive assistive technology "services" that include conducting AT evaluations, securing devices, selecting and customizing devices, coordinating therapies and intervetions, and training and technical assistance for the student, their family, and the professionals who are involved in working with the student.

A guidance manual on assistive technology is available from the Illinois State Board of Education. They have also provided non-regulatory guidance for schools about assistive technology in a Frequently Asked Questions document.

Illinois Assistive Technology Guidance Manual 2020

Assistive Technology Guidance Manual Frequently Asked Questions February 2021


July 2022

Mental Health Breaks

When students feel a heightened sense of nervousness or anxiety, they may just need a mental health break.  Breaks can allow for self-care and prevent more serious future issues.  Illinois passed a law effective January 1, 2022, that allows students (with and without disabilities) to take five excused absences for mental or behavioral health yearly.  The hope is that parents do not hesitate to notify the school of their child’s needs for the break and take advantage of the new law. 

The student must be given an opportunity to make up any schoolwork missed during the mental health absence.  After two mental health absence days, schools may choose to alert appropriate personnel and to follow up with the student in order to make sure their needs are being met. 

Compulsory Attendance

June 2022

Allergy Situations at School

If a child has an allergy to certain foods or other substances in the environment, the parent needs to work with the child's medical provider and school to develop a plan of prevention and action.

Substitutions must be made to the regular school meal, including milk for any child with disabilities (i.e. a life-threatening reaction when exposed to the food and/or beverage) when the following two requirements are met:

  • A licensed physician's statement is required. Pursuant to Section 27-8.1 of the School Code, the licensed physician that may perform student health examinations is a physician licensed to practice medicine in all of its branches to families for a physician to complete
  • The Statement must include the child's disability, explanation as to how the disability restricts the child's diet, the major life activitiy affected by a disability, and food(s)/beverage(s) to be omitted and foods/beverages to be substituted

For children with disabilities only requiring modifications in food texture (such as chopped, ground, or pureed), a licensed physician's written instructions indicating the appropriate texture is recommended, but not required.

Anaphylaxis is a severe systemic allergic reaction from exposure to allergens that is rapid in onset and can cause death. Common allergens include animal dander, fish, latex, milk, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs, insect venom, medications, peanuts, soy and wheat. A severe allergic reaction usually occurs quickly; death has been reported to occur within minutes. An anaphylactic reaction can occur up to one to two hours after exposure to the allergen.

It is the policy of the Illinois State Board of Education, according to Public Act 102-0413, that each school district must have an anaphylaxis policy. Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/2-3.182(a-g) and Section 22-30) require that all public schools, nonsectarian nonpublic schools, and charter schools create and implement policies concerning anaphylaxis prevention and treatment. These policies must also be reviewed and reevaluated every three years and be updated to reflect an necessary and appropriate revisions.

Parents of students with known life-threatening allergies and/or anaphylaxis should provide the school with written instructions from the student's health care provider for handling anaphylaxis and all necessary medications for implementing the student-specific order on an annual basis. This may be provided as an Individual Health Care Plan, an Emergency Action Plan, or as part of a student's Individualized Education Program or Section 504 Plan. The anaphylaxis response policy is not intended to supplement the standing protocol in place for schools that already have undesignated epinephrine. The policy should address all school-sponsored activities (including transportation to and from school, field trips, and sporting events) in alignment with School Code (105 ILCS 5/2- 3.182(a-g) and Section 22-30).

Not all schools have a school nurse or certified health staff on a regular basis. Schools are encouraged to take this into consideration in developing plans for the district.

Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs

Template for an Individual Health Care Plan


May 2022

Special Education Mediation

If you have a difference of opinion with the district regarding your child's special education services, placement, and/or related services, you have the right to request state-sponsored mediation services from the Illinois State Board of Education. Mediation is an informal meeting between you and district staff led by a neutral third party mediator with the goal of resolving the special education disagreement. The mediator will:

-help you and the school understand each other's concerns, and then consider and develop options to resolve the dispute

-help you and the school talk about the issues while encouraging you to identify areas of agreement and disagreement and help you identify solutions that you are agreeable to both parties.

There is no cost for parents and mediation can be requested at any time issues need to be resolved. BOTH you and the school must agree to participate in mediation.

Learn more and compare mediation to other forms of dispute resolution at:

Special Education Dispute Resolutions in Illinois


April 2022

Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities

If a student with an Individualized Education Program plans to attend college, that student should be encouraged to

-take interesting and challenging courses in high school;

-be involved in school or community-based activities that allow him or her to explore career interests, including work-based learning or internship opportunities;

-meet with counselors and team members to discuss career goals, programs of study, college requirements; and

-be an active participant at IEP meetings.


The IEP team is responsible for ensuring that that student’s IEP includes the specialized instruction, supports, and services needed to assist the student in preparing for college.

A Summary of Performance (SOP) is required for each student with an IEP whose eligibility for services under IDEA terminates due to graduation from secondary school with a regular high school diploma or due to exceeding the age of eligibility for FAPE.  In Illinois, eligible students are entitled to FAPE until the ending of the school year in which they turn 22.  The SOP includes a summary of the student’s academic achievement and functional performance that includes recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting the student’s postsecondary goals.  This summary can be used by the student while accessing postsecondary education. 

A postsecondary student with a disability is NOT entitled to the same services and supports received in high school.  In college, Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination based on disability.  That means college students get accommodations that are necessary to provide equal access to program participation.  The student MUST inform the college of the disability and the needed accommodations. 

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



March 2022

Communicating with Your School Through Letters and Emails

The Illinois State Board of Education’s Educational Rights and Responsibilities:  Understanding Special Education in Illinois-The Parent Guide includes an appendix of sample letters for parents to use as they communicate with school personnel.  These letters can be mailed or emailed to the appropriate staff.  The guide offers the following thoughts on communicating in this manner: 


Sometimes your child may have a particular problem at school.  You may have talked to your child’s teacher about this concern.  The two of you may have written notes back and forth or talked on the phone.  If it seems like nothing is happening to resolve your concern, then you may want to write a formal letter.  Perhaps the communication hasn’t been as clear as you think.  Maybe you feel that the seriousness of your concern isn’t fully understood.  By writing a letter, the school will learn that you consider the matter to be an important one that needs to be addressed.  You can write about any concern – an IEP issue, a general education issue, schoolyard bullying, or the need to help your child with social skills or behavior improvement.  There are no rules as to the type of problem you can write about.  Any school problem is worth writing about if it is having a negative impact on your child. 


The guide then emphasizes the importance of keeping copies of all written correspondence and providing copies to all staff who need to see the information. 


The sample letters in Appendix A include those that address:

  • A problem your child is having
  • A request for an evaluation
  • A request for an independent evaluation at public expense
  • A request for records
  • A request for a meeting to review the IEP
  • A request for a change in placement
  • A request for Prior Written Notice
  • A request for Mediation
  • A notice informing the school of private school enrollment at public expense
  • A request for a Due Process Hearing
  • A complaint
  • Follow-up about an issue
  • Positive feedback
  • Revocation of consent


Educational Rights and Responsibilities:  Understanding Special Education in Illinois – The Parent Guide



February 2022

Determining Needed Areas for Evaluation

 When an evaluation is conducted by a school district to determine eligibility for special education, the process involves determining whether a domain area is of concern for the child, what information already exists about the child in this area, what additional evaluation data is needed in each area, and what sources will be used to obtain the needed data. A child must be tested in ALL areas of suspected disability.  The school district must use a variety of assessments, tools, and strategies to conduct evaluations.  The domain areas include:

  • Academic Achievement
  • Functional Performance (how the child functions throughout the school day)
  • Cognitive Functioning (how the child takes in, understands, and expresses information)
  • Communication Status (articulation, voice, fluency, language)
  • Health
  • Hearing/Vision
  • Motor Abilities (including functional mobility, strength, endurance)
  • Social/Emotional Status (life history, adaptive behavior, independent function, personal and social responsibility, cultural background)


Parents can share letters, reports, or other materials that can help the school understand their child.  This information could be from teachers, doctors, or community service agencies. 


The Illinois State Board of Education’s consent for evaluation form lists the domain areas to be considered. 



January 2022

Educational Surrogate Parents

Educational Surrogate Parents (ESPs) are educational advocates for children who may be eligible for or are receiving special education services and who are considered youths in care of the Department of Children and Family Services, are living in a residential facility, or are unaccompanied homeless youths. ESPs help ensure the students have access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (IDEA).

An ESP's responsibilities include the following activities:

  • Act as an advocate for students receiving or who are under evaluation for special education services
  • Attend and actively participate in IEP meetings
  • Provide consent for assessment/evaluation for special education
  • Work with school staff to develop an IEP which includes appropriate services
  • Develop a working relationship with school staff
  • Learn about the student's educational eneds
  • Ask questions and provide input
  • Keep and review records
  • Visit the student in school and observe
  • Request conflict resolution procedures if necessary
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Respond to communications from the school/district in a timely manner
  • Submit reports of services twice a year to the Illinois State Board of Education and request financial reimbursement if preferred

In order to become an ESP, one must complete training, pass the final assessment, and submit to a background check. Once this is complete, each surrogate will be assigned students and will begin receiving notices of IEP meetings and other important information.

Family Matters recruits candidates for the Educational Surrogate Training program through the Illinois State Board of Education and provides the training. Contact Family Matters if you have an interest in helping students without parental representation in the special education system. 866-436-7842


December 2021

Internet Access for Learning

Learning virtually, whether full time or during a quarantine, poses challenges for many students and families. Internet access should not be one of them. Eligible families who are struggling to afford internet service in order to connect to virtual classrooms, healthcare services, or jobs, can receive a discount of $50 per month toward internet fees.

A household is eligible if a member of the household meets ONE of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
  • Approved to receive benefits under the free or reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider's existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Go to to submit an application. The local internet provider will then need to select an eligible plan.

Learn more at


November 2021

Compensatory Educational Services

When a school district has failed to provide appropriate services for a student with a disability or have been unable to provide those services, courts have ordered districts to provide compensatory services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some districts report having difficulty consistently providing the services determined necessary to meet the child's needs and address each of the IEP goals. Compensatory services may be necessary to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the child's receipt of appropriate services. 

the US Department of Education notes in their latest guidance dated September 30, 2021, that the same types of individualized and child-centered deliberations that are appropriate for an IEP team meeting discussing the child's IEP, would be appropriate when considering the need for, and extent of, compensatory services. The Department also encourages IEP Teams to consider input from, or encourage participation by, previous teachers and service providers, as appropriate, so that the other IEP Team members can benefit from their knowledge of the child's skills and progress levels before the onset of, or during, the pandemic.

The Department lists some things to consider when determining if compensatory services are needed, but note that this is not an exhaustive list.

  • If the initial evaluation, eligibility determination, and identification, development and implementation of the IEP for an eligible child were delayed;
  • If the special education and related services that were not appropriate to meet the child's needs;
  • If some or all of the child's IEP could not be implemented using the methods of service delivery available during the pandemic (for example, if the physical therapy and behavioral interventions strategies included in the child's IEP could not be provided through virtual means); and 
  • If meaningful services to facilitate the transition from secondary school to activities such as postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation were not provided due to the pandemic.


Section D of the guidance addresses compensatory education. 

Return to School Roadmap: Development and Implementation of Individualized Education Programs in the Least Restrictive Environment under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act



October 2021

Supporting Students with ADHD

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often need accommodations in the classroom environment.  Accommodations can address their possible difficulty with such things as:

-attention to details

-holding attention

-sustaining focus

-organizing tasks and activities

-losing materials


-sitting still and working without movement

-a tendency toward excessive talking, blurting out answers, interrupting other     

-switching activities


Some students with ADHD will receive accommodations under a Section 504 Plan.  Others will need specialized instruction and will receive their accommodations as a special education service. 


You may contact Family Matters for more information about accommodations for your child. 


CHADD-Children and Adults with ADHD


National Institute of Mental Health

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


September 2021
MAPS - Making Action Plans

A MAP (Making Action Plans) is a planning process that helps plan positive and possible futures for people with disabilities.  The process usually involves the individual for whom the MAP is designed, family, friends, educators and any key people who are involved in the person’s life.  People gather together with a MAP facilitator and they plan for the future.  The process was designed to help individuals find direction when they are transitioning from school to adult services and at other key points in their life.


The MAP process is a way of thinking about the future.  The questions that are asked help people to look at their dreams and determine what they need to reach some of their dreams and goals.  The process is powerful when it is facilitated with a group but it can also be done individually or with a small group of people who are planning for the future.  The end result is an action plan that can be used as part of the transition process.


The questions that are asked may include:

Ø What is the history of the individual?

Ø What are the individual’s dreams?

Ø What is the individual’s nightmare?

Ø What are the individual’s gifts and strengths?

Ø When the individual thinks about next year—what would be a positive and possible plan?

Ø What does the individual need to help them succeed?

Ø What do we need to do to help the individual reach goals and dreams?


MAPS are the work of Marsha Forest and Jack Pearpoint.  Learn about MAPS at

or call our office to learn more about person-centered planning at 866-436-7842.


August 2021

Social Work Services at School 

School social workers address the social and emotional needs of students. The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Association of School Social Workers have collaborated to update the School Social Work Best Practice Guide. This 2020 third edition guide examines the role of a school social worker, the application of a tiered system of social work services, and social services for students receiving special education.

School social workers complete Social Developmental Studies for students when they are evaluated or re-evaluated for special education services. This study involves interviewing the student and the student's parents, observing the student, interviewing teachers and other staff, reviewing records, and collecting data including information from social/emotional rating scales. The school social worker than summaries the information and provides recommendations for needed services.

School social workers can facilitate social and emotional learning that is a part of the general education setting by providing an understanding of expected behavior, working with other staff to prevent behaviors, and reinforcing desired behaviors. For students with intensive needs, direct service is provided on an individual basis. The services should be related to individualized goals for the students that are aligned with the Illinois Social/Emotional Learning Standards.

School Social Work Best Practice Guide


July 2021

Supports for Students in Private Schools Including Home schools

When parents choose to place their child in a private school, the school district in which the private school is located is responsible for locating, identifying and evaluating any of them who may need special education services.  In Illinois, a home school is considered a private school.  The evaluation process is at no cost to the parent.

If an evaluation indicates that a privately placed student qualifies for special education services, then the district outlines the services the child would qualify for if they attended a public school.  If the parent continues placement at the private school, the child is still eligible for special education and related services.  These services will be outlined in an Individual Service Plan (ISP).  The amount of service provided will be determined by the proportion of privately placed students with a disability compared to the number of children with disabilities in the public school. 

The public and private school officials will determine how, where and by whom special education services will be provided.  No parentally-placed private school child with a disability has an individual right to receive some or all of the special education and related services that the child would receive if enrolled in public school.

The services provided must be provided by personnel meeting the same standards as personnel providing services in the public schools, except that teachers in the private schools who are providing equitable services do not have to meet special education teacher qualification requirements.  If necessary for the child to benefit from or participate in the services, a parentally-placed private school child with a disability must be provided transportation from the child’s school or home to a site other than the private school or from the service site to the private school or to the child’s home.


June 2021

Restorative Justice at Schools

Rather than focusing on blame or guilt, or disciplining by rewards or punishments, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority promotes implementing restorative justice in schools.  Restorative justice is a tool for de-escalating conflict and dealing with misbehavior.  It is about transforming school culture.  It allows for teachable moments and repairs relationships.  Restorative practices include the students and promote understanding and sharing.  They separate the deed from the doer.  Students are held accountable for their actions and must repair the harm they have caused.  This approach offers alternatives to suspensions and expulsions.

Implementing Social Justice – A Guide for Schools (ICJIA)

Bringing Restorative Practices to Your School (Edutopia)


May 2021

SSI for Kids

The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program helps children with qualifying disabilities by providing critical financial assistance. Children with physical and/or mental conditions-whose families meet certain income and resource limits - can receive SSI from birth until age 18. If approved, a child could be eligible for a monthly payment (up to $794 in 2021) and possibly an additional state supplement. If an unmarried child under age 18 is living at home, Social Security may consider some of the parents' income as the child's income. To qualify for SSI, a mild must:

-have a medical condition, or a combination of conditions, that result in "marked and severe functional limitations". This means that the condition(s) must very seriously limit the child's day-to-day activities.

-and the child's disabling condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, for at least 12 months, or be expected to last, for at least 12 months; or result in death.

Compassionate Allowances is a list of conditions that, by defintion, meet Social Security's standard for disability benefits. Thousands of children receive benefits because they have a condition on this list. Children with a condition(s) not on this list can still qualify for SSI.

Compassionate Allowances List

Benefits for Children with Disabilities

Benefits Application


April 2021

Transfer of Parental Rights to a Student at Age 18

In Illinois, when a student who is eligible for special education turns 18, all rights previously accorded to the parents transfer to the student unless the student has been adjudged incompetent (the parent or another adult has legally obtained adult guardianship of the student).  The school district must notify the student and the student's parents of the transfer of rights in writing at the IEP review meeting during the school year in which the student turns 17.  The student who has turned 18 can always consult with an adult of his or her choice, including the parents, and ask them to assist in making decisions regarding the student’s individualized education program (IEP).

The student can ALSO execute a Delegation of Rights to appoint their parent or another guardian to represent their educational interests when they turn 18.  The school district must provide the student with a copy of the Delegation of Rights form. This form must be renewed annually.  A student may terminate the Delegation of Rights at any time and assume the right to make decisions regarding his or her education.

Delegation of Rights Form


March 2021

Developing An IEP

Each public school student starting at age 3 who has been identified as a child with a disability receives an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  In developing the IEP, the team consisting of school staff and parents must consider the strengths of the child, the concerns of the parents, the results of evaluations, and the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the child.  Assistive technology needs should always be considered.  Other considerations may include behavior that impedes the child’s learning or that of others, limited English proficiency, a need for Braille instruction, and communication needs. 

Writing an appropriate IEP begins with a close look at data and present levels of performance.  This information leads to the development of annual goals and objectives or benchmarks that will bring the student closer to grade level skills academically and socially.  Knowing the goals, the team then determines what accommodations and related services will support the student’s achievement of those goals.  Once goals and service needs are outlined, the team can begin to discuss the appropriate setting for those goals to be achieved.  The placement should be in the least restrictive environment – the environment that offers the most time in general education, the most time with non-disabled peers, that still allows for progress and success.

When the IEP Team Meets


February 2021

Educational Placement for Children Ages 3-5

Some young children will move from Early Intervention services into special education services provided by the school on their third birthday.  Some will begin to demonstrate a need for services at some point between their third birthday and the time they would normally begin kindergarten.  In both situations, evaluation data will be used to determine present levels of performance, eligibility for special education services, and which services will provide an appropriate individualized education program (IEP) so that the child can progress. 

After goals and services are determined by the individualized education program team (which includes parents and school staff) it will be time to determine the most appropriate placement for the child.  As noted in When I’m 3, Where Will I Be?, a publication produced by The Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Human Services, a child’s IEP team “must consider a regular education preschool setting as the first option for placement” for students in this age range.  The guide explains that “Special education and related services are not a ‘place’.”  It goes on to say that a child’s special education and related services can be given in “community preschool or child care programs, park district preschools, Head Start, state-funded Pre-kindergarten or Preschool for All programs, or Early Childhood Special Education programs”.   The school should explain each of these options and the IEP team should choose a placement that will allow for access to age-appropriate activities and nondisabled peers to the extent appropriate that will also allow for the child to progress. 

When I’m Three, Where Will I Be?

January 2021

Building a Transition Portfolio

Illinois students who receive special education services will leave the school system at least by the day before they turn 22.  They will enter the adult world with potential assistance needs in the areas of continued education, employment, training opportunities, and/or living options.  During high school, students are to be involved in their transition planning.  One way to do that is to assemble a portfolio.

For students who will be leaving the school system, a portfolio could include such items as:

  • a copy of their birth certificate
  • their social security number
  • copy of their current IEP with transition goals
  • assessment scores
  • work evaluations
  • work experiences
  • volunteer experiences
  • community involvement activities
  • strengths / skills
  • accommodation needs


This portfolio should be updated frequently and provided to those who can potentially support students.
Learn more about transition services at PACER. 

PACER information on Transition of Youth with Disabilities


December 2020

IDEA Turns 45 - We Have Come A Long Way

Until 1975 there was no law guaranteeing that American children with disabilities could access appropriate public education services with a full equality of opportunity.  On November 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) now known as IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  The latest reauthorization of this law took place in 2004.

To be eligible for services starting at age 3 (Part B services), children must fit into at least one eligibility category.  The categories in 1975 were:  Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Hard of Hearing, Mentally Retarded, Multihandicapped, Orthopedically impaired, Other Health Impaired, Seriously Emotionally Disturbed, Specific Learning Disability, Speech Impaired, or Visually Handicapped.  With notable language updates and the addition of new categories, today the categories are:  Autism Spectrum Disorder, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Developmental Delay, Emotional Disability, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. 

The law initially was for children starting at age 3, but in 1986 the reauthorization of the law mandated that states also provide services to children with disabilities from the time they are born. 

In the 1990 reauthorization, Congress mandated that an Individual Transition Plan be developed for students as they go through a transition from school services to post-secondary life.  In the 1994-1995 school year, 63% of students with disabilities graduated with a regular diploma or certificate of completion.  In the 2017-2018 school year 72.7% exited school with a regular high school diploma. 

In the 1997 law amendment there was an increased emphasis on access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities.  Now, 95% of students with disabilities ages 6-21 are served in a regular classroom at least part of the day.  The 2004 reauthorization called for improved educational outcomes and the regulations developed in 2006 required schools to use research based interventions in the process of assisting students. 

In the 2018-2019 school year, 7,539,553 infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities from birth through age 21 were served under IDEA. 


November 2020

Priority Learning Standards for 2020-2021

The Illinois State Board of Education sets learning standards for Illinois students which are essential to student achievement. In August 2020, ISBE issued priority learning standards for the 2020-2021 school year. In the Introduction to these standards, ISBE states: "In light of the many ways students have been, and continue to be, impacted by the global pandemic, remote learning, and racial and social injustices that are being revealed during this moment in history, it is evident schools, teachers, and students will need to maximize learning during the 2020-2021 school year and beyond. Educators will need to contend with unfinished learning from spring 2020 and learning loss compounded by trauma as they begin instructional planning for fall."ISBE is wanting schools to deliver quality instruction that will work toward recovery rather than just remidation. ISBE is wanting schools to deliver quality instruction that will work toward recovery rather than just remediation.

ISBE has identified the most Priority Illinois Learning Standards. The full set of Illinois Learning Standards was reviewed and the standards which most effectively address learning loss, engage students deeply, and maximize learning were selected to prioritize. These prioritized standards are offered "to mitigate the added stress and pressure placed on educators and students and to support a focus on the standards that will have the greatest positive impact on learning."

Parents can review these prioritized standards in Social/Emotional Learning, Physical Education, Health, English/Language Arts, English Language Learning, Math, Science, Social Science, and Fine Arts to learn what the state feels is essential for children to learn this year.

Illinois Priority Learning Standards for the 2020-2021 School Year


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.