Special Education (3 to 22)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate education. IDEA governs how states and local educational agencies provide special education and related services to students whose educational performance is adversely affected by a disability.

Who is Eligible

  • Children and youth (age 3 until their 22nd birthday) are evaluated by school district staff to see if they qualify for services through standardized assessments, observation, staff reports, parental input, and documentation from therapists and medical providers.
  • Children that are found eligible receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B and the Illinois School Code.
  • Students with medical diagnoses found ineligible for special education services because their disability does not adversely affect their academic performance could be eligible for a 504 Plan (e.g. a child who only needs reasonable accommodations due to their asthma diagnosis).

Why Apply

  • Eligible students will get an IEPIndividualized Education Programdeveloped by a team comprised of educational experts, school specialists, and relevant staff members with parental input.
  • The IEP will outline the specific services and supports the child needs in order to meet educational goals that are decided on by the IEP team.

This includes:

  • Instruction designed specifically to satisfy the  educational needs of the child, without any cost to the parents;
  • Related services required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education include: speech-language pathology and audiology services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, social work services, and transportation; and
  • Certain legal rights related to the child’s education and specific procedural safeguards.

To Apply For

Either the parent or the school district can initiate the evaluation request for special education services.

(Parents of children ages 3-5 not presently enrolled in school should see this brochure for detailed information on requesting an evaluation for their child; also available in Spanish aquí.)

  • If the parent initiates the evaluation process, they must submit a request for evaluation, which is signed and dated, to the school district. The best practice is to attach relevant medical information and reports from all providers regarding the child's educational needs to this evaluation request.
  • Each school district has their own procedures for receiving requests. It may be necessary to call the school district’s central office to find the procedure. All school districts must respond to the evaluation request in writing within 14 school days of its receipt; if they agree to evaluate within that same 14 school days, then they must hold a domain meeting (see under Read More.)
  • A parent may request an evaluation with or without the assistance of a medical provider. To access the template for requesting an evaluation for their child without the input of a physician, please click here (Spanish).
  • Medical providers often supply parents with documentation to aid them in requesting an evaluation for special education services. Providers should use this template when assisting families with requests for evaluations. With parental consent, medical providers should:
      • indicate the child’s particular disabilities and how those disabilities adversely affect the child’s educational performance;
      • attach any diagnosis, evaluation, or reports to the request that may be helpful in determining eligibility.
      • sign the request (along with the parents); and
      • fax a copy of the signed request to the school district, keep a copy for the patient’s records, and provide a copy with the fax confirmation to the parent.
  • If parents are hand-delivering evaluation requests to the school, it is best to have the person receiving it in the school district's office sign and date a copy of the request for the parent's records because each new evaluation request can restart the 14 day time period in which the school district must respond.
  • Childcare providers can help fill out this form for early childhood special education referrals.

Read More

A detailed explanation of the application process for obtaining an IEP for your child:

1.)    The child is identified as possibly needing special education: School personnel or a parent can recommend a child for a special needs evaluation. The evaluation needs to be completed within 60 school days after the parent gives consent. 

2.)    A domain meeting is held:  this meeting is held to determine the scope and extent of the evaluation to be performed.

3.)     The child is evaluated: The evaluation answers three questions:

  • Does the child have a disability that requires the provision of special education?
  • What are the child’s specific needs?
  • What specific services are appropriate for addressing those needs?

If the parent disagrees with the evaluation, they have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the public's expense for the child.

4.)    Eligibility is decided: Based on the evaluation results, the IEP team determines if the child is eligible for special education services.

5.)    Child is found eligible: If the child is found eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be developed within 30 days after the child is deemed eligible. Practically speaking, the IEP is developed at the same meeting when a child's eligibility is determined.

6.)    IEP meeting is scheduled: The school system conducts the first IEP meeting. The meeting is open to parents, school personnel, and anyone close to the child who has knowledge or special expertise about the child. This is another opportunity for parents to provide the school district with relevant medical and other reports.

7.)    IEP meeting is held and IEP is written: Before the school may commence with services, the parents must give signed consent. 

8.)    Services are provided: The school makes sure that the IEP is carried out as written. IEP services must be provided within 10 school days of the IEP meeting.

9.)    Progress is measured and reported to parents: The child’s progress towards annual goals is measured and parents are given progress reports.

10.)    IEP is reviewed: The IEP is reviewed at least once a year and may be revised. Parents must be invited to participate in the meetings, and they can make suggestions. If parents do not agree with the IEP, further testing may be requested or a complaint may be filed.

11.)  Child is reevaluated: The child must be evaluated at least every three years to determine if they continue to be eligible for special education services and to evaluate the child’s educational needs. 

12).  Transition: Transition planning begins at age 14½ in Illinois and continues until the student graduates or reaches age 22. This prepares students for life after high school by offering instruction, community experiences, related services, development of employment and post-school adult living objectives, daily living skills, and functional vocational evaluations.

12.) Parents can visit: Parents and the child's outside therapists and medical providers have a right to visit a current or proposed IEP placement at a date and time mutually agreed upon by the school staff. 

If a parent disagrees with eligibility, services, placement, or if there has been a procedural violation, they may utilize procedural safeguards like requesting mediation, filing a due process claim, or filing a state complaint.

Links to Important Resources

Medical providers can use this convenient checklist to walk families through the process of applying for special education services.

Medical providers may also need to have parents sign a release form so that they may communicate directly with a school district.

Creating a 504 Plan for a child with asthma: Medical provider checklist found here. Visual Asthma Action Plan found here. Request letter for 504 Plan for a child with asthma can be found here. A brochure on understanding 504 Plans can be found here

Physicial Referral for Occupational and/or Physical therapy for Chicago Public Schools

Parents applying for special education services without the assistance of a medical provider should use this receipt form when confirming that the school has received a referral for their child.

Information about equal rights in extracurricular activities for students with disabilities can be found here.

Once the child turns 18 years old, please click here to access the Delegation of Education Rights form which will allow the parent or other responsible adult to continue representing the child's educational interests until age 22. 

For guardianship information once the child turns 18, click here to be directed to the Guardianship of a Disabled Adult page.

Children are entitled to receive home/hospital services within 5 days of a physician's, physician assistant's or advanced practice nurse's written statement; for more info, click here. The medical referral form for CPS can be found here. The psychiatric referrral form can be found here. For homebound services outside of CPS, contact your school district from appropriate paperwork.

For detailed information about special education, please refer to the Illinois State Board of Education Parent Guide for Understanding Special Education.

For resources against bullying in schools, please click here

Special Education and Early Intervention Resource Guide

To access the updated Notice of Procedural Safeguards for Parents/Guardians of Students with Disabilities click here.

To access the updated Notice of Procedural Safeguards with the changes made from the 2009 to the 2017 version highlighted in red, click here.

To view changes to Special Education parent rights as a result of SB 454, click here.


Topics: Special Education, Transition Age Youth
Tags: Educational Supports, Special Education, homebound
Last updated September 11, 2018

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