Arc Testimony on State Board’s Proposed Sp Ed Rules
The Arc of Illinois recommends that the Illinois State Board of Education withdraw the proposed amendments to sections 226.730 and 226.731, and commence an ad hoc committee of stakeholders including advocates for students and parents, parents, teachers, school management, and other special education personnel, to fully discuss and make recommendations on these issues before any rules changes are considered.
1. The 70/30 rule acknowledges a reasonable guideline, documented in educational best practice literature, and reflecting natural proportion of students with disabilities to those without in the makeup of a general education classroom. Access and participation with typical peers in general education is essential to successful educational experiences and outcomes, providing critical preparation for a successful life in the community for an adult with a disability. Maintaining natural proportion provides a balance that allows teachers to effectively address the needs of all students in the classroom.
2. We believe that the elimination of this important guideline will result in fewer genuine and quality inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities. Families are already forced to fight for access to general education settings in many Illinois districts. We are concerned that the elimination of this important component in the definition of general education will only serve to impede the efforts of those students/families/teachers who seek a quality integrated educational experience.
3. There is already a process in place that allows districts to request a waiver for the 70/30 rule. Although it is a lengthy form, it assures that there is thoughtful planning for exception to this important guideline. Students with speech only concerns are already disregarded in the 70/30 calculation. We urge ISBE to consider a less drastic approach to resolving legitimate 70/30 issues. Can the form be re-designed and shortened for instances where there are justifiable needs for exception and thorough plans for providing needed support for the students and teacher?
4. ISBE states that “agency staff believe that restrictions on placement decisions set forth in rule can now be eliminated, and school districts, through the IEP process, should determine locally the accommodations and modifications necessary to place students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.” Removing the 70/30 ratio would allow districts to disregard the whole concept of natural proportion and its connection to successful inclusive classrooms. This ratio provides a measure of quality assurance in least restrictive environment. We know that educational environment is important to successful outcomes. Students with disabilities need to have access to general education classrooms and typical peers. A definition of “general education” that includes guidelines for proportion is necessary to ensure that students with and without disabilities have a quality integrated educational experience. Teachers deserve to have parameters in place that are known to contribute to successful outcomes. Illinois remains ranked among the lowest when it comes to having students, particularly those with more complex needs, integrated in general education settings. Why would we remove reference in the guidelines to this important component for success in these classrooms?
5. Class size limits for special education currently in place are the result of countless hours of thoughtful and painstaking effort by teachers and other educational professionals in this state to identify, assess, and set in policy those elements that allow for successful outcomes for students with disabilities in special education settings. Although it is our belief that less reliance on separate settings must be an ongoing goal for Illinois education in general, it is also important to support those students whose IEPs reflect a need for more specialized and individualized services. Accountability and high expectation for all students is non-negotiable and teachers deserve educational environments that make improved educational outcomes possible for all students.
6. When it comes to special education class size restrictions, we would urge you to ask the special education teachers that you know – that serve your children – how they anticipate that eliminating class size restrictions will impact students with disabilities. Are there benefits to students in changing these guidelines? Why is ISBE proposing to eliminate these guidelines without consultation with stakeholders? We have heard no compelling arguments in support of this change.
7. The Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities (ISAC) did not support these proposed amendments.
Again, we strongly urge the State Board of Education to withdraw the proposed amendments to sections 226.730 and 226.731, and to commence an ad hoc committee of stakeholders including advocates for students and parents, parents, teachers, school management, and other special education personnel, to fully discuss and make recommendations on these issues before any rules changes are considered.
Thank you for your consideration.
Deb Fornoff, representing
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Road, Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423