Find answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about special education. Just click on a question below to read the answer or scroll down to read them all.
What can the school do if my child brings drugs or a weapon to school, or if my child seriously injures someone at school? And when can the school place my child in an Interim Alternative Education Setting (IAES)?
How can I learn about my child’s legal rights and the school’s duties?
Our Special Education Helpline (1-866-KIDS-046) can assist you by providing:
- Someone to talk to about your questions and concerns
- Information sheets on frequently asked questions
- Sample letters and forms
- Other assistance as needed
What is the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and what type of complaints do they accept?
You may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights if a school is treating your child differently because of a disability.
- The U.S. Department of Education’s OCR is a federal agency that ensures that schools comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (anti-discrimination law).
- You may file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights if a school is treating your child differently because of a disability.
- OCR does not enforce IDEA (the special education law).
- OCR will probably not solve your complaint about an IDEA issue, which would include IEP issues.
- For help deciding whether this is the right place for your complaint, see the
How do I file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)?
Write a letter to OCR that includes:
- Your name and address
- The story of your child’s different/discriminatory treatment because of his or her disability and how it hurt him or her
- The name and address of the school
- A description of the different treatment with details so that OCR can understand:
- What happened
- When it happened
- The reason for the different treatment, such as your child’s disability
Remember, you must have proof, a “paper trail” to show what happened. Send copies of that “paper trail” to OCR with your letter.
Illinois residents without Internet access may send a letter to:
Office for Civil Rights/Chicago
U.S. Department of Education
500 W. Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60661
What is an ISBE complaint, and how do I file?
You may file a complaint with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) if the school has not followed special education laws. Examples include not following your child’s IEP.
- You must write a letter explaining the specific failure by the school and what you are asking the board of education to do.
- Important things to know when filing an ISBE complaint:
- Whatever you are complaining about must have happened within the past year.
- It is important to send proof of the wrongdoing with your letter, such as the IEP or other school documents.
- It is best to have a “paper trail” that shows the failure of the school.
- What do I put in the ISBE complaint?
- Your name and child’s name
- The school’s name
- Details about what the school did wrong and the facts to support your statement
- How does the ISBE complaint process work?
- The ISBE has 60 days to resolve the complaint.
- The ISBE will:
- Review your letter
- Send the school a copy of your letter (complaint)
- Ask the school to respond
- To find out more information, see ISBE’s description of the special education complaint investigation process at
- If you do not have Internet access, you may send your letter to:
The Illinois State Board of Education Special Education Services Division 100 N. First St. Springfield, IL 62777-0001
What is mediation and how do I request it?
- Important things to know about mediation:
- A parent or school district can ask the state to provide a mediator at any time.
- It is free.
- Mediation is voluntary, which means both parties have to agree to mediate.
- If you or the school does not want to mediate, it will not happen.
- Either side can stop mediation at any time.
- The mediation will take place on a date that everyone agrees to.
- The mediator is an impartial person who will try to help both sides reach an agreement.
- Mediation is confidential. Anything said at mediation cannot be repeated outside the room or in a due process hearing.
- Mediation is binding on both parties.
- It is very important that any agreement be written.
- An agreement should state exactly what each party will do, by when, and what will happen if the parties don’t do what they have agreed to.
- How do I request mediation?
You can write or call:
Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)
100 N. First St.
Springfield, IL 62777-0001
217-782-5589 (mediation coordinator)
Toll free: 866-262-6663
What is a due process hearing and how do I request one?
A due process hearing is an administrative hearing, like a trial, with a hearing officer (judge) and witnesses.
- You must prepare to go to trial if you file for a due process hearing.
- You do not need a lawyer, but it is helpful to have one.
- In Illinois, one research study showed that from 1997 to 2002, parents without a lawyer won only a little more than 16 percent of due process hearings.
- In the same study, parents who had a lawyer won 49 percent of the hearings.
- If you use a lawyer, find one who knows special education law before you request a due process hearing.
- Important things to know about due process hearings:
- In Illinois, the IDEA 2004 limits due process hearing issues and remedies to two years before the date of the hearing request.
- You can ask a hearing officer to correct a problem that has occurred within the last two years, but you may not request relief for a problem that goes past that two-year period, unless it is recurring or fits another of some very narrow exceptions.
- How do I request a due process hearing?
- Send a letter to the school superintendent and the ISBE (in Illinois).
- The letter should include:
- Identifying information, such as your name, your child’s name and the school’s name
- The problem
- Your proposed solution
- There are very specific rules for what must be in a due process request letter and in the hearing. You can find Illinois’ rules by looking at the website:
My child is constantly in trouble at school. How can I get the school to do a functional behavior plan and a behavior intervention plan?
Ask the school to administer a functional behavior assessment (FBA). An FBA is a study of your child to find out why he or she is having behavior problems. It should include:
- Observations of your child at school
- An interview with your child, you (the parents) and your child’s teachers
- A review of discipline records
After the school finishes the assessment, the individualized education program team should write a behavior intervention plan (BIP). A BIP is a plan that helps when your child’s behavior is affecting his or her learning or that of other students. The plan should:
- Be tailored to your child’s needs.
- Provide your child with support so he or she can make progress on school goals and avoid suspension and detention.
- Include positive motivation so your child has a reason to improve behavior. For example, if your child loves to play on the computer, the plan could offer 10 minutes of computer time good behavior all morning. Behaving means different things for different children. It could mean staying seated and working quietly, or not cursing all morning.
How long can the school suspend my child?
Here are the rules on suspension:
- The school may suspend a student for up to 10 school days for violations of the school’s discipline code.
- The school normally cannot suspend your child for more than 10 school days in a row without having a meeting called a manifestation determination review (MDR). See information below.
- The school also must hold a review if it has suspended your child for more than 10 school days during the school year for similar behavior problems.
- The only time a school can immediately suspend your child for more than 10 days without holding an MDR is when your child:
- Brings drugs to school
- Brings a weapon to school
- Causes serious bodily injury to someone at school
What is a manifestation determination review (MDR) and why is it important?
Here are the facts about an MDR:
- The school cannot expel your child without first holding an MDR.
- An MDR is a meeting the school calls if it wants to suspend or expel your child for more than 10 school days.
- It must be held within 10 school days of the incident.
- The IEP team decides whether your child’s behavior is a “manifestation” of a disability.
- Your child’s behavior is a manifestation of a disability if it falls under one of these categories:
- Substantially related to the disability
- Caused by the disability
- A direct result of the school’s not following your child’s individualized education program
- If your child’s behavior is a manifestation of a disability, the school cannot expel your child.
- If the IEP team decides that your child’s behavior is a manifestation of a disability, it must complete a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) or review your child’s existing FBA. The IEP team must do one of the following:
- Create a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to address the behavior discussed at the meeting
- Changes to your child’s existing behavior plan so the school can provide support to address the behavior
- If the IEP team decides that your child’s behavior is not a manifestation of his or her disability and you do not agree, you can file for an expedited due process hearing. If you want to do this, you should contact the clinic’s Helpline at 866-KIDS-046 (866-543-7046).
What can the school do if my child brings drugs or a weapon to school, or if my child seriously injures someone at school? And when can the school place my child in an Interim Alternative Education Setting (IAES)?
Your child may be immediately removed to another school setting, without regard to whether your child’s behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability, when he or she:
- Seriously injures someone at school
- Brings a weapon to school or to a school function
- Possesses or uses illegal drugs, or sells or solicits the sale of these drugs at school
These are the facts about Interim Alternative Education Settings (IAES):
- The school may place your child in an IAES for up to 45 days.
- The IEP team determines the interim setting.
- A common example of an IAES is an alternative school.
- After the 45 school days are up, your child goes back to the previous school, unless the school district takes legal action to keep your child out.
What will happen at my child’s expulsion hearing and how can I prepare for it?
At the hearing:
- The school will give reasons for the expulsion and the date the expulsion will start.
- You have several rights at the expulsion hearing:
- Having an attorney or advocate represent you.
- Having witnesses tell why your child should not be expelled, presenting evidence and cross-examining the school’s witnesses.
- Giving the reasons your child should not be expelled.
- If you believe there has been a mistake and your child is innocent, your child can tell his or her “side of the story.”
- Even if your child misbehaved, you may argue that he or she shouldn’t be expelled because:
- The act of misconduct was not bad enough to deserve expulsion
- This is the first instance of serious misconduct
- The behavior did not disrupt the education of the other students
- Expulsion is not in the best interest of your child
If the school district decides to expel your child after the expulsion hearing, you may appeal the decision by going to state court.
What happens if my child is expelled?
An expulsion removes your child from school for more than 10 days in a row. It can last from 11 days to two years.
What if my child has a disability?
If your child is a student with a disability:
- He or she can be expelled for the same reasons as a student without a disability, except for behavior that is a result of a disability (MDR).
- The school must still let your child work on IEP goals and participate in the general education curriculum.
Can the school call the police, and what other discipline can be used on my child?
The school can call the police to report a crime, even if your child has a disability. The school must give the police copies of your child’s special education and disciplinary records.
The school may restrain, seclude and put your child in timeouts because of his or her behavior. The school must follow certain rules when doing this and tell you what it did. You should:
- Learn about of the dangers of these discipline actions.
- Tell the school if you disagree with their use.
For more detailed information, click on the Expulsion, BIP, Discipline and Evaluation fact sheets.
If my child does not have an IEP, can the special education laws (IDEA) help keep my child from being expelled?
Exceptions are limited:
- Your child does not fall within the exceptions to expulsion under IDEA if:
- You did not agree to an evaluation or services for your child
- The school evaluated your child but did not find him or her eligible for special education
- The exception is:
- If the school knew or should have known that your child should be in special education but did not offer to evaluate your child and he or she does not have an IEP
What is Early Intervention (EI)?
Early Intervention is a program for children under 3 who have developmental delays, disabilities, or are in at-risk conditions for developmental delays.
What does the EI program do?
At no charge, the EI program will test infants and toddlers to see if they have a delay in:
- Dealing with others
- Self-help skills
How is Early Intervention helpful?
EI may help provide your child the best start in life, prevent or reduce the need for more intervention in the future, and reduce related costs.
Who is eligible for Early Intervention?
Children under the age of 3 who:
- Are experiencing developmental delays in any of the following areas:
- Cognitive development (learning)
- Physical development, including vision and hearing
- Language and speech development
- Social or emotional development (behavior)
- Adaptive development (use of existing skills)
- Have been diagnosed with certain physical or mental conditions (such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome)
- Have certain family circumstances that put them at risk of substantial delays, such as:
- A parent diagnosed with a developmental disability
- A parent diagnosed with a severe mental disorder
- Any three of the following:
- Primary caregiver abuses alcohol or other substances
- Primary caregiver is younger than 15
- Child is homeless
- Chronic illness of the primary caregiver
- Mother abused alcohol or other substances during pregnancy
- Primary caregiver has an education level less than the 10th grade, unless that level is appropriate to the primary caregiver’s age
- Evidence of abuse or neglect and the child has not been removed from those circumstances
What are the steps to Early Intervention?
- Referral to Child and Family Connections (CFC) office
- Intake completed by a CFC service coordinator
- Evaluation (to determine eligibility) and ASSESSMENT
- Development of an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
- Parent consent for services
- Services provided to your child
- IFSP review every six months, or more frequently if needed
- Transition to a program for 3- to 5-year-old children
What services are offered?
Early intervention provides these services:
- Assistive technology devices and services
- Early identification screening and assessment
- Family training, counseling and home visits
- Health services that allow your child to benefit from the other early intervention services
- Medical services (only for diagnosis or evaluation)
- Nursing services
- Nutrition services
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Psychological services
- Service coordination
- Social work services
- Special instruction/developmental therapy
- Speech language pathology and audiology
- Transportation and related costs
- Vision services
Who provides the services?
Early Intervention services are available through providers who have met state qualification requirements and service standards. Examples include the following:
- Special educators (developmental therapists)
- Speech/language pathologists and audiologists
- Occupational therapists
- Physical therapists
- Social workers
- Dietitian nutritionists
- Family therapists
- Orientation and mobility specialists
- Pediatricians and other physicians
Who pays for the services?
Government agencies and and families pay for services. The cost of evaluation, assessment and development of a service plan, and the cost of service coordination, are paid by the program and provided to families at no cost. Ongoing Early Intervention services are paid for by the family’s health insurance, when appropriate, government insurance (AllKids), and EI program funds. Your family contribution is based on your income.
How do I learn more about Early Intervention?
Children and families receive Early Intervention services through one of 25 regional Child and Family Connections (CFCs). To find a local CFC, call 800-323-4769. Also, please visit our Early Intervention Resources page where we have fact sheets you can download.
What is an Individual Education Plan?
An IEP is a plan created to specifically address the needs of your child. As a student with special needs, your child has a right to specialized instruction that allows him or her to make meaningful educational progress. The law requires schools to provide what is appropriate or necessary but not what is best.
Who is on the IEP team?
The IEP team consists of:
- Special education teacher
- General education teacher
- An administrator
- Other service providers
- Any other person you or the school choose to invite
What are the parts of the IEP?
The parts of the IEP include:
- Present level of performance
- Annual goals
- Modifications and accommodations
- Transition planning
What else should be included in the IEP?
The IEP should be written based on recent information. If the current evaluations do not identify your child’s weaknesses and provide strategies to address them, you should request that more testing be done.
I don’t agree with the school. What are my options?
If you are having a problem that you have not been able to resolve by talking with the school, you have several options outside of the IEP process. Each of the options has different rules so it is important to choose the best one for your situation. The conflict resolution options are:
- Complaint Investigation Process (ISBE)
- State-Sponsored Mediation (ISBE)
- Special Education Due Process (ISBE)
- Filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
What types of transition goals should be in the IEP?
If your child plans to work after high school, goals should include:
- Completing training in life, vocational and social skills, along with workplace etiquette
- Building skills in order to help with work
- Visiting/shadowing at possible workplaces
- Using a job coach to try different occupations
- Taking public transportation if needed for work
If your child plans to go to college after high school, transition goals may include:
- Requesting accommodations for college entrance exams
- Investigating the Disability Student Services (DSS) offices of various colleges
- Building skills necessary to self-advocate
- Completing applications for at least four schools with strong DSS offices
If your child has the academic ability to go to college, but not the functional skills (organizational, independent living, or social), you may consider a transition program, or a college program with additional support, or a structured environment with tutors.
How do I learn more about special education?
If your child needs special education because of a disability, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives you and your child certain rights:
- Your child has the right to a free appropriate public education.
- You do not have to pay any more for the education of your child with a disability than a parent would pay for the education of a nondisabled child.
- The school cannot use your private insurance to pay for your child’s education and related services unless you agree.
- If your child receives special education services, the school must give you notice in writing within a reasonable time before any meetings, and before any service your child receives is changed or denied. This notice must explain the procedures, the meeting or the proposed changes, and inform you of your rights.
What is an evaluation?
An evaluation is a group of tests to show strengths and weaknesses. It is used to find your child’s learning needs and whether your child should receive special education services. It may also be called a case study evaluation.
Why must your child be evaluated?
To show that your child qualifies for special education services. You may disagree with any part or all of the evaluation.
How does the school use the evaluation?
To show that your child needs special education services, to help create your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), and to set IEP goals.
Who pays for the evaluation?
The school district pays for the evaluation if it agrees that your child needs it. You do not need to use your own money or insurance for the evaluation.
Who can request an evaluation?
You, a teacher or school administrator, or someone who works with your child at a public agency.
How do you request an evaluation?
Write a letter to the principal. Ask that your child be tested for special education services. Your letter should include:
- Problems that your child has had
- Steps you or the school have taken to help your child
- That you agree the school can conduct the evaluation
- Tests you want done
- Tests you do not want done
- That you want a copy of the school’s evaluation procedures
- That you need a response within 14 school days
What should be included in a transition plan?
A transition plan must be in your child’s individualized education plan (IEP)] starting at age 14Â½.
The transition plan must have age-appropriate goals related to:
- Independent living skills
The plan must address services (including classes) to help your child reach goals. A plan should be result-oriented and based on individual strengths, preferences, interests and goals. A transition plan should include a coordinated set of activities that:
- Helps improve your child’s academic and functional achievements as he or she moves toward higher education, employment, independent living and community participation
- Is based on your child’s needs, while taking into account strengths, preferences and interests
- Includes instruction, community experiences and the acquisition of life skills and job goals
How do I develop a transition plan?
Your child should go to the IEP meeting and help plan for transition services. Consider your child’s goals and needs, and what your child wants for the future. The school must consider your child’s desires when writing the IEP. Goals should be specific and written into the IEP. Goals may include:
- Getting a job or working
- Going to a community college or a university
- Living in a dorm, an assisted-living community or an apartment
- Getting a driver’s license
- Taking the bus alone or going grocery shopping
Include written accommodations and supports so your child can meet the goals. To create an effective plan, know about your rights and talk with your child about the future.
What options should the transitioning student consider after high school?
There are several options to consider after high school, including:
- Higher education such as college or junior college, with modifications as needed
- Vocational education and job training
- Integrated employment
- Continuing adult education
- Continued community and recreational participation
- Adult services
- Social skills training to increase community involvement
- Job and skills training can include:
- Apprenticeships that have on-the-job training and work experience;
- Other options such as trade and technical schools, or competitive employment
- Supported employment, which can provide:
- A job coach who helps your child learn and perform the job and adjust to the work environment
- Assistive technology
- Specialized job training
The Vocational Rehabilitation Agency (VR) provides services to people with disabilities with a focus on career development, employment preparation, achieving independence, and integration into the workplace and community. To apply, make an appointment with the local VR and fill out an application. To be eligible for services:
- Your child must be person with a disability
- The disability must be a substantial barrier to employment
- Your child must require services to get and keep a job
For more information go to http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=29736
Where can my young adult live?
Your child may live:
- In an apartment or home
- At home with a parent or family member
- In a group home that has:
- Few residents, in a neighborhood, and help to increase their independence
- Staff that helps with cooking, laundry, money management, making personal choices, health and safety issues, mobility, self-medication, social skills and vocational skills
- In semi-independent living that provides:
- Supervision, care and training for the person with a disability
- In assisted living for people who need help with daily living but who do not need intensive medical help. Services can include:
- Health care management and monitoring
- Help with daily living activities such as dressing and eating
- Housekeeping and laundry
- Help with taking medication, recreational activities, security and transportation
More information about housing can be found through Housing and Urban Development.
Are health care, insurance and other public assistance available?
Yes, these are among the forms of help available:
- Medicaid is a health program for low-income people with disabilities. You can apply through the
Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services
- Medicaid Waiver Programs allow children who would normally be institutionalized to live at home.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) helps people with a mental or physical impairment that results in the inability to do any substantially gainful activity and can be expected to result in death or will last for longer than a year continuously. To apply, make an appointment with Social Security at 1-800-772-1213
- Food stamps (SNAP) also help low-income families buy food. Contact the Department of Human Services.
What is the Delegation of Rights to Make Educational Decisions and do I need one?
In Illinois, when your child turns 18, the rights under IDEA are transferred from you to your child. One year before your child turns 18, your child must sign a statement that he or she is aware that these rights will be transferred. These rights include:
- Making decisions about his or her education and future
- Being responsible for his or her own IEP
- Changing his or her placement
- Attending mediation
- Filing due process
- Initiating dispute resolution
- Getting notice of upcoming IEP meetings
- Giving consent to be re-evaluated
- Determining his or her eligibility for services
As the parents, you must also be notified that all rights will transfer to your child. Your child can sign a Delegation of Educational Rights Form so you have the right to make educational decisions for your child after age 18, even if your child has NOT been declared incompetent.
For more detailed information, click on the transition fact sheet, life center fact sheet, transition checklist, transition planning fact sheet, resources guide and sample delegation of rights.
- View our Special Education Resources page
- Read about our case work involving special education
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Last updated: September 27, 2020