Understanding Special Education
Special education services provided by Chicago Public Schools through the Office of Diverse Learners Supports and Services is aligned with state and federal regulations, including the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
The Illinois State Board of Education oversees compliance and technical assistance to local school districts, including monitoring least restrictive environment compliance; approving policies and procedures; administering the due process system and mediation services; and providing information and guidance on special education practices and service delivery.
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is important to understand. As the nation's special education law, IDEA provides rights and protections to children with disabilities and to their parents. It ensures a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities and ensures that special education and related services are provided to those children.
Learn more about IDEA
Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS)
CPS uses a multi-tiered system of supports framework or other response to intervention framework to determine a student eligible for a Specific Learning Disability and to inform the development of individualized education programs (IEPs). MTSS incorporates data-based problem solving and decision making across all levels of the education system to determine the appropriate level of instruction and intervention to meet the individual needs of students from different backgrounds, learning styles and performance levels.
Learn more about MTSS
Special Education Process
If a student continues to struggle in an area of concern with interventions in place and services provided with fidelity, school personnel, parents and legal guardians may request a special education evaluation of their child by a multidisciplinary team of experts. This team determines whether the child has a qualifying disability as defined by IDEA and whether they are eligible for special education services.
Learn about the Special Education Process
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for each public school child who needs specialized services. The IEP is created after a child has been evaluated by a team of qualified professionals and found eligible to receive special education and related services. The child’s progress is measured, and the IEP is reviewed periodically and revised as necessary.
Children may qualify for special education and related services in 14 categories of disabilities:
- Developmental delay (age 3-9)
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment
Special Education and the IEP Process Quick Guide
The 504 Plan is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability under the law (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations and supports that will ensure their academic success and equal access to the learning environment. The disability must substantially limit a major life activity, which includes a child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom.
Section 504 has a broader definition of a disability than IDEA, so a child who does not qualify for an IEP might still be able to receive accommodations and related services under a 504 Plan. Accommodations can help children who are struggling at school, work around their weaknesses. Examples of 504 Plan accommodations include preferential seating; extended time on tests and assignments; changes to class schedules, homework assignments, and grading; verbal, visual, or technology aids; and behavior management support.
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
Parents of students with IEPs should receive a Notice of Procedural Safeguards of Parents/Guardians of Students with Disabilities at least once a year, as well as under other circumstances, including upon your request. The document outlines the rights that are safeguarded by state and federal law.
To learn more about your rights under state and federal laws and procedures for resolving issues, visit Know Your Rights and read about Procedural Safeguards:
CPS Procedures and Guidelines
In September 2018, the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services issued updated CPS procedures and guidelines for students referred for or currently receiving specialized services.
If you are the parent of a child with disabilities for whom transportation is provided pursuant to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan and your child is experiencing transportation related problems, call (773) 553-2860 for immediate assistance.
For questions around special education services, please contact the ODLSS District Representative assigned to support the specific school.