Special Education Law

Special Education Law

Our central mission is to empower parents and their children with the knowledge to find success at school, at home, and in the community.

All children have the right to a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE“).  This right is of central importance when addressing a child’s right to special education.  We work to ensure that parents are prepared to make the best decisions for their child and his or her educational needs.

Our legal practice focuses on special education law and related issues in the greater Chicago area: Cook County, Lake County, DuPage County, and throughout northern Illinois.  We can help you with a wide range of matters, including:

Educational Evaluation and Reevaluation

educational evaluation is the procedure used to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services that the child needs in the school setting.  Reevaluations must occur at least once every (3) years, unless the parent and the school district agree that a reevaluation is unnecessary based on existing information on the student.  If the district believes that a reevaluation is unnecessary, a parent still has the right to request that the reevaluation be completed. 

An educational evaluation is one of the first steps in the special education process and the success of a child’s educational plan often depends on the nature and degree of the evaluation performed.  We can ensure that you know what to expect in the evaluation process and that your child is receiving an appropriate evaluation based on his or her needs. 

Eligibility Determinations for Special Education

In order to determine whether a child is “eligible” to receive special education and related services, a school district must assess or “evaluate” the child in all areas of suspected disability.  This may include: Academic Achievement; Functional Performance health; Cognitive/Intellectual Functioning; Health; Hearing/Vision; Motor Abilities; Communication Status; and Social/Emotional and Behavioral Status. 

Also included in this area are the “categories of eligibility”.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA“) lists different disability categories under which children may be eligible for special education services.  Students may qualify for services under one or more categories. However, these categories do not tell the whole story of the student. Categories alone do not identify where the student will go to school or determine what kind of services they need. The current disability categories include: autism; cognitive disability; deaf-blindness; deafness; developmental delay; emotional disability; hearing impairment; multiple disabilities; orthopedic impairment; other health impaired; specific learning disability; speech language impairment; traumatic brain injury; and visual impairment. 

We can help you to understand whether your child falls under one or more of these categories and to secure special education services for your child.

Review and Analysis of Educational Plans

The development of an “appropriate” individualized educational plan (“IEP“) is essential to maximize the success a child finds at school. We have the background and knowledge to help ensure that not only are a child’s educational rights met, but that he or she receives the services and supports for success.

Development of Educational Goals and Related Services

The development of educational goals is a central component in the IEP process. A goal is something that can be obtained within a school year. Goal data should form the basis for instruction and the goals should be written to allow access to the general curriculum and other activities during or after school. Goals must be measurable, identify who will be responsible for working on them, and identify how progress will be reported to parents. Goals also include “benchmarks”, or short-term objectives for each goal. 

Related services are the services that assist a student to advance toward annual goals.  Related services may include direct, or indirect, interventions by a social worker, school psychologist, speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, or a physical therapist. The related services a child receives will depend on the child’s needs at school.  We can help to ensure that your child finds the right services and supports that are essential to developing a positive educational experience.

If you need help developing goals and determining appropriate services and supports for your child at school, we can help.

Understanding the Continuum of Educational Placement Options

The decision about where a student should receive services is called educational placement. The IEP team, which includes parents, decides the educational placement and services for the student. Decisions are made at least once a year at the IEP meeting and are based on the student’s individual needs.

The IDEA presumes that the first placement option considered for each child with a disability is the general education classroom in the school that the child would attend if he or she did not have a disability.  If the IEP team, decides that a general education class is not the most appropriate setting for the student, then they can consider alternative placement options including: resource rooms; special education classrooms; structured teaching classrooms; public therapeutic day schools; private therapeutic day school; as well as home/hospital instruction. Ensuring a child’s appropriate placement is essential to developing a successful educational plan for a child. We can help you to ensure that your child’s placement is appropriate and that you are fully informed of all placement options.

Effective Implementation of IEP and 504 Plans

As a parent, your work does not end with the development of an appropriate educational plan for your child. Of equal importance is ensuring that the school is effectively implementing the services and supports set forth in an IEP or 504 Plan.  If your child’s school is failing to implement the requirements of his or her IEP or 504 Plan, we can help.

Representation in Due Process Hearings and Mediation

Parents and school districts want their children to be successful. In the area of special education, success occurs when parents and school districts act as “partners”. Still, even the best of partners can encounter disagreements.

“Mediation” is the formal process of conducting a meeting led by a mediator to resolve a disagreement between a family and a district about the services and supports needed by a student with disabilities. Mediation can occur regardless of whether a formal complaint or due process hearing request has been made. In mediation, the parties work to draft a “Mediation Agreement”, a formal written document drafted by a mediator that describes the mutual agreement reached by the parties to the mediation. A Mediation Agreement must be signed by both sides and can be enforced in a court of law if one party does not abide by the agreement.

Additionally, parents, or a school district, may seek “Due Process”. Here, a formal hearing occurs when a complaint is filed requesting a due process hearing. The hearing may involve attorneys and advocates for each side and will result in a legally binding, written decision that can be appealed in a court of law.

Should a Mediation or Due Process Hearing become necessary, we can help you to obtain the best possible outcome for your child.

Student Disciplinary Matters

It is important to understand how school safety affects student discipline, as well as the procedures involved when a school district considers suspending or expelling a student with a disability.  Special education laws cannot hinder school safety.  A student with a disability can receive the same punishment as other students.

Additionally, schools also have the right, and the responsibility, to report crimes to the police.  Schools do not need to get a parent’s permission before reporting a crime.

But what if the child’s disability is the primary cause for the disciplinary incident?  Can the child still be disciplined by the school or school district?  In this instance, a Manifestation Determination Review (“MDR“) may be necessary. A MDR is conducted to decide if the student’s disability is the primary cause of an incident in question.  If it is found that the student’s disability IS the primary cause for the incident, a school district may not discipline the student (i.e. impose a suspension or expulsion on the student in accordance with procedures required for all students in the district).

We can help to guide you through student disciplinary matters for children with disabilities, and to protect your child’s interests.

Behavioral Intervention Plans

If a student’s behavior is disruptive to his or her learning, or the learning of other students, the school district and parents should work together to understand the reason(s) for the behavior, and plan ways to help the student learn more appropriate ways of behaving.  One way of doing this is for the IEP team to develop a Behavioral Intervention Plan (“BIP“).  A BIP can be used to: better understand the meaning or function of a child’s behavior; understand the underlying causes for the behavior; find ways to change the environment to support a student’s needs; and plan how to teach the student appropriate behaviors.

BIP plans are of significant importance with children suffering from autism spectrum disorders.  We can help you with the development of an appropriate behavioral intervention plan for your child.

Collaboration with Medical and Health Professionals

Every child is unique, and every child has unique and individual needs. When seeking help for a child with a disability, this often includes collaboration with medical and health professionals. A transdisciplinary approach, connecting medical and health professionals with someone knowledgeable in the area of special education and serving children with disabilities, better ensures that the child finds success at school, home, and in the community. We can help you to effectively and efficiently interact with Medical and Health Professionals. 

Get The Help Your Child Needs

Special Education presents significant challenges to both schools and families. We work to ensure that each child receives reasonable, and appropriate, educational services and supports.  We make every effort to ensure that your child’s individual educational needs are not only met, but that your child maximizes his or her opportunities for success.

Every child is unique, and every child has unique and individual educational needs. If your school has failed to meet the educational needs of your child, please contact us for help.