Frequently Asked Questions about Special Education

  • What is special education?

    "Special education" is "specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and instruction in physical education." 20 U.S.C. Section 1041(29). 

    May my child attend the IEP (individualized education plan) meeting?

    The student may attend and participate in the IEP meeting. The student may attend selected parts of the IEP meeting rather than being present for the entire meeting. 

    What timelines affect the creation and implementation of my child's IEP?

    Eligibility for special education and related services begins with a written request for evaluation. Fourteen (14) calendar days later, the district and parent(s) meet in order to decide whether an evaluation is necessary. If an evaluation is necessary, district and parents determine which domains will be evaluated. Parents are asked to consent to the evaluation process. Once the parent provides written informed consent, the evaluation process begins. The district has up to sixty (60) school days to complete the evaluation and convene an eligibility meeting. The evaluation team and parent(s) meet in order to determine whether or not the student is eligible for special education. If the student is deemed eligible for special education and related services, the parent(s) are asked to consent to placement. Placement may begin ten (10) days after the parent provides such consent (or sooner, if the parent gives permission.)

    (Adapted from, "Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois", Illinois State Board of EducationSpecial Education and Support Services, June 2009) 

    What is the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP?

    A "504 Plan" may be created for a student, pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law is not a special education law. Rather, it is an "anti-discrimination" law. It requires any person or agency receiving federal funds to create and implement policies to prohibit discrimination againstindividuals with disabilities. It applies to school districts as well areas outside of education (i.e. labor, employment, grants, contracts, etc.). The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a special education law that provides special education and related services to all eligible students through an IEP. Unlike IDEA, which lists specific categories of disability, Section 504 defines "disability" as an individual who has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." A "504 Plan" describes how the district will support the student's disability and provide access to school programs. In some instances, students who are not eligible for IDEA services may qualify for a 504 plan. However, these instances are determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the needs of a student. 

    What is a Transition Planning Guide (TPG)?

    For students 14 years and older, a Transition Planning Guide is developed to prepare a student’s transition from high school to either the work force or any post secondary educational institution. The plan shall include: 1) appropriate, measurable, postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate assessments related to employment, education or training and as-needed independent living; 2) the transition services that are needed to assist the child in reaching those goals, including courses of study and any other needed services to be provided by entities other than the school district. *Providers outside of the school district can also be invited to attend IEP meetings for students who may need their services. 

    Can my child receive home bound services if they will be out of school for a medical condition for an extended period of time?

    Any student with a health or physical impairment which will cause an extended absence from school may be eligible to receive home and/or hospital tutoring. The health or physical impairment must be verified by a written statement from a licensed medical examiner. In conjunction with the medical examiner, school personnel must determine that the student can educationally benefit from such a program. 

    Can my child be suspended from school for behavioral reasons?

    Schools have a grave responsibility for keeping students and staff safe. If a student behaves in a way that is dangerous to him/herself or others, the school must act to keep students and staff safe. Special education laws and safeguards cannot impede or interfere with the safety of others. A student with a disability can receive the same punishments as non-disabled students — except for suspensions that exceed 10 days. If a student faces a suspension that could result in removal from education for more than 10 school days, the district must conduct a Manifestation Determination Review ("MDR") with the parents and members of the IEP Team.

    (Adapted from "Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois," Illinois State Board of Education Special Education and Support Services, June 2009) 

    Can I request that my child repeat a grade?

    A student with an IEP may repeat a grade if the IEP Team determines that it is appropriate. The parent is an equal member of the IEP Team and has the right to meaningfully participate in this discussion. 

    Can I postpone or request an additional IEP meeting?

    A parent may postpone an IEP meeting if he/she feels it is necessary. However, the parent should not allow too much time to pass before meeting. By law, IEP meetings must occur no less than once per year. Re-evaluations must occur within 60 days. Additional IEP meetings may occur whenever necessary. Parents may initiate IEP meetings whenever they feel it is appropriate. There is no limit to the total number of IEP meetings that a Team may hold in order to develop an appropriate educational program. 

    What type of education is my child entitled to during the summer months?

    Sometimes students with IEPs are entitled to "extended school year" (ESY) services. ESY includes special education and related services that are provided to the student beyond the normal school year at no cost to the parent(s). ESY is to be provided if the child's IEP Team determines that the services are necessary to the provision of a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). No single factor determines whether or not ESY is appropriate but the discussion should address whether or not the student will regress in knowledge and/or skills over the summer months. The IEP Team decides which services will be provided during ESY as well as whether the services will be provided in school, home or community. 

    Can I excuse a member of the IEP Team from an IEP Meeting?

    Yes, IEP Team members are not obligated to attend an IEP Meeting if the parent and school agree (in writing) that the individual's presence is unnecessary because his/her areas of the curriculum and/or related services are not being discussed or modified in the meeting. A parent can also excuse (in writing) a Team member whose areas of curriculum and/or related services are being discussed at the meeting if the individual submits written input to the parent and IEP Team prior to the IEP Meeting. 

    Can I bring additional people to the IEP meeting?

    Yes. A parent may bring to the IEP Meeting, "other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child..." (34 CFR Section 300.321) This may include private related service personnel, medical professionals, tutors, etc. The determination of the individuals "knowledge or special expertise" must be made by the party who invites the individual to the meeting. 

    Can an IEP be changed without holding an IEP meeting?

    Sometimes an IEP Team needs to change the IEP after the annual IEP meeting. The parent(s) and the school district may agree to make the changes without holding another comprehensive IEP Team Meeting. Under these circumstances, the parties may draft a written document to amend or modify the student's current IEP. After doing so, the district must inform all IEP Team members of the changes.