The Illinois General Assembly finished up their spring session in mid-June, and there is a lot for Illinois PTA members to celebrate. Here are the highlights from the spring. Note that many of these bills still await the signature of the governor to become law.

Budget

By far, the biggest success of the session was getting $350 million added to the evidence based funding (EBF) formula, and Illinois PTA thanks those who responded to our call to action. Your advocacy played a critical role in getting this funding added to the budget.

At the beginning of the session, the governor proposed a second year of flat funding for the EBF formula, and there was some talk of cuts to EBF funding. Thanks to the efforts of Illinois PTA advocates and our advocacy partners across the state, both the governor and the legislature came to support state funding of $350 million for the EBF formula. State funding was critical as well, as using the various federal pandemic education relief funds come with restrictions in how they can be use and disappear in a few years, making it difficult for schools to commit to hiring teachers with the new funds.

Ending Restraint and Seclusion

Illinois PTA has formally supported the end the use of restraint and seclusion in Illinois schools since National PTA passed a resolution on the issue in 2015. Governor Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education took emergency action to end the practice in 2019 after a ProPublica and Chicago Tribune investigation into the practice exposed how the practice was abused and how it traumatized children.

The legislation bans the locking of children alone in seclusion rooms, limits the use of any type of isolated timeout or physical restraint to when there is “imminent danger of physical harm,” requires districts to make a plan to reduce and eventually eliminate any use of restraint and seclusion, and immediately bans the use of prone or face-down restraint that has resulted in deaths of children for most students (still allowed for 2021-2022 for children who’s special education plans specifically allow it as an emergency measure). The legislation also establishes priority access to grant funding for staff training to those districts that eliminate the practices in less than three years.

Mandatory K-5 Recess

It has long been known that children need unstructured play time and that being active can help young children in the classroom. While the exact number of schools that do not provide daily recess is unknown, legislators noted that it was common practice in Chicago Public Schools and elsewhere in the state. The legislation requires schools to provide children in Kindergarten through fifth grade at least 20 minutes of “supervised, unstructured, child-directed play” during any school day lasting five hours or longer. The time could be divided into two recess periods of 15 minutes each. For school days less than five hours, recess of at least one-tenth of the day is required.

Ending Deceptive Interrogation of Minors

This legislation makes confessions by minors in custody inadmissible if the confession was obtained by “a law enforcement officer or juvenile officer (that) knowingly engages in deception.” In other words, police officers cannot lie to children in order to get them to confess to a crime (e.g., “Your buddy in the other room is saying you did it.”). As Rep. Justin Slaughter noted, ““There have been a hundred wrongful convictions in Illinois predicated on false confessions. Minors make up 31 of these cases. Research, experience and common sense tell us that minors are between two and three times more likely to falsely confess the crimes they didn’t commit.”

Sex Education

Two bills focused on sex education are headed to the governor. The first creates a new “personal health and safety” curriculum for grades K-5 and a “sexual health education” curriculum for grades 6-12. These curricula will need to follow the National Sex Education Standards and include age-appropriate education on consent, different types of families, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Parents may still opt their child out of sex education classes. School districts have the option of not providing sex education classes, but if they do, they must use some or all of the specified curriculum.

The second bill requires that school districts teaching sex education must include age-appropriate education on the effects of “sexting” for students in grades 6-12. This education would include discussion of “the possible long-term legal, social, academic, and other consequences that may result from possessing sexual content.”

Free Menstrual Hygiene Products in School Bathrooms

Legislators passed a bill requiring school district to provide free menstrual hygiene products in all school bathrooms for grades 4-12. The legislation means that those students needing the products would not need to ask a teacher or school nurse and that all students have access to the products, including transgender students who identify as male and those for whom affordability is an issue.

Ban on “Hairstyle Discrimination”

This legislation prevents Illinois schools from enforcing dress codes that prohibit hairstyles historically associated with race, ethnicity, or texture, including braids, locks, and twists. The bill was dubbed the “Jett Hawkins Law” after the young boy who was sent home from school after his hair was deemed to be a violation of the school dress code, one of several instances of students, most commonly students of color, being prevented from participating in school activities or even attending class until they changed their natural hairstyles.

Media Literacy

In the lame duck session in January, just before the current legislative session, legislators passed an omnibus education billaimed at improving racial and ethnic equity in Illinois schools. One of the provisions of that bill required students to take a computer literacy course (which could be English, social studies, or other subjects that already count towards graduation). A follow-up bill this session includes “media literacy” in the definition of computer literacy and requires instruction on accessing information across various platforms; analyzing and evaluating media messages; creating their own media messages; and social responsibility and civics.

DCFS Reform

Two bills address small changes that could have big effects for children in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The first requires DCFS to make sure that every child in their care graduating high school completes their FAFSA form on time. As children age out of the DCFS system at 18, ensuring that they have additional options available to them like financing for college can make a significant difference in their future.

A sad and telling testament to the treatment of children in foster care is the long-standing line: “Hefty: The Official Luggage of the Foster Care System.” For decades, whenever a foster child moved from one care situation to another (something that often happens more than one per year), they were given a trash bag into which they put everything they owned. As many foster children have said, such actions made them feel disposable. The bill requires DCFS to provide foster children a real piece of luggage, whether it is a duffel bag or suitcase. While the change is small, children in care have said it is an important small step.

Students with Disabilities

A small correction to current law provides that a student whose 22nd birthday occurs during the school year can continue to receive special education services through the end of the school year. In the past, services ended the day before their 22ndbirthday.