Celebrating Legislative Successes in 2018—Education Issues

As we approach Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on February 6, 2019, we are taking the opportunity to reflect on the substantial legislative gains Illinois PTA made on issues affecting our children and youth in the areas of health, including mental health, safety, gun control, social and emotional learning, and special education. Today’s article looks back at new laws covering education issues, including special education and social and emotional learning.

IEP Parent Notification

Many parents and students may be unaware of the special services available and, as a result, may not receive the early and effective interventions needed. PA 100-0993, Individualized Education Program(SB454) amends the Children with Disabilities article of the School Code to provide that at a child’s initial Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting and at each annual IEP review meeting, the IEP team will provide written notice to the child’s parent or guardian advising as to whether the child requires assistive technology in order to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Section 504 Parent Information

Another statute, PA 100-1112, amends the Children with Disabilities Article of the School Code in connection with Mental Health Services (HB5770) to provide that a school board will provide notice through its student handbook, newsletter, and/or website that students who do not qualify for an individualized education program, may, however, qualify for services under Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if the child has or is regarded as having a physical or mental impairment, beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.

Social and Emotional Learning

The Illinois PTA supports social emotional learning (SEL) programs in schools pursuant to our continuing position on this issue. SEL programs have been shown to have immediate improvements in mental health, social skills, and academic development. Incorporating non-violent conflict resolution and positive interactions with others—important components of social and emotional learning—may be an effective means of preventing further suspensions and needs for disciplinary action in the near future and many years from now. A 2017 meta-analysis from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University, the University of British Columbia, and Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) determined that SEL programs benefit students long-term. As many as 18 years later, students exposed to SEL in school continue to do better than peers in the following areas: positive social behaviors and attitudes; empathy; teamwork; and academics. They also were found to have fewer problems in connection with conduct, less emotional distress, and lower drug use. CASEL found that SEL skill development is best done through effective classroom instruction, student engagement in positive activities in and out of the classroom, and broad parent and community involvement in program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

In connection with this, we supported related bills – HB5786 and HB4657. PA 100-1035, In School Suspension Focus on Non-violent Conflict Resolution (HB 5786) amends the School Code regarding in-school suspensions so that the school district may focus on non-violent conflict resolution, and positive interactions with other students and school personnel, as well as permits a school district to employ a school social worker or mental health professional to oversee the in-school suspension program. PA 100-1139, Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force, (HB4657)amends the School Code, creating the Emotional Intelligence and Social and Emotional Learning Task Force to develop curriculum guidelines, assessment guidelines and best practices on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning.

Parenting Education

Research across numerous agencies has shown that programs that promote healthy social, emotional and cognitive development can improve the quality of life and potential for many children. In particular, properly developed parenting programs have been shown to promote positive parenting behaviors and effective discipline strategies, change adverse family patterns, and to reduce levels of child abuse and neglect. According to the National Academy of Sciences, abuse can change a child’s brain, including with respect to: the way the brain regulates emotions, such as fear and anxiety – altering the way a child connects with peers and adults; cognitive processing – including planning, reasoning and decision-making ability; and can lead to an increase in social problems, including drug abuse, violent and/or criminal behavior, to list just a few. The AAP Report also found that parenting education is an effective means to prevent abuse and mental illness before it starts.

PA 100-1043, Parenting Education Bill (HB4442) amends the School Code to require, in part, that the State Board of Education implement and administer a 3-year pilot program to support the health and wellness student-learning requirement with a unit of instruction on parenting education in participating school districts for the ninth through twelfth grade, encouraging instruction on the following: 1) family structure, function, and management, 2) child abuse prevention, 3) the physical, mental, emotional, social, economic, and psychological aspects of interpersonal and family relationships, and 4) parenting education competency development, aligned to the social and emotional learning standards of the student’s grade level. Importantly, it will also allow the State Board of Education to provide grants for those participating in the pilot program.

Take Action

Do we have more to do? Every day! How can you help? Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Networkto stay up to date on issues, and  join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.

Local Unit Spotlight: STEPS PTSA Takes On The World!

Today’s post kicks off a new series highlighting the good things that our local PTAs and Councils are doing. If your PTA or Council would like to brag a bit about what they are doing, send a short write-up to your District or Region Director, noting that it’s for One Voice Illinois. Don’t forget to send us some pictures of your event as well!

STEPS PTSA, servicing the Indian Prairie District 204 transition program for young adults with disabilities, kicked off the 2018 school year in style! More than 50 PTSA members, including parents, teachers, students, alumni, administrators, and school board members were on hand to celebrate a summer of successful and noteworthy achievements.

The STEPS PTSA recognized 17 students and coaches for their accomplishments. Their accomplishments included Special Olympics state qualifiers, members of Team USA—Unified Cup tournament, Special Olympics USA games, Special Olympics World Games, keynote speaker at the National Best Buddies conference, keynote speaker at the Special Olympics Women in Leadership breakfast, MLS All-Star athlete, and members of the Chicago Fire All-Star soccer team. The students and coaches each shared their amazing experiences with the audience and each brought memorabilia, photos, medals, uniforms, and newspaper articles to display. The audience cheered them on waving pom-poms and rally towels. It was a wonderful celebration of student abilities and a fantastic way to start the year!

The STEPS PTSA was formed in 2017 with the goal of focusing on the unique abilities of these young adults and supporting the STEPS Transition Program. The STEPS PTSA works to create social opportunities, activities, and events that allow their members to get involved in the community. STEPS Alumni are an important part of the PTSA. They are invited to join the PTSA so that they will continue to have access to social and community activities and events. The STEPS PTSA knows the importance of building an inclusive culture and breaking down barriers. The sky is the limit for the STEPS PTSA students and alumni!

Healthcare Transition Toolkit for Children with Disabilities

If you have a child with a disability, you have probably become very familiar with navigating and supporting their health care needs over the years. However, once your child turns 18, health laws turn much of the responsibility of that care over to your child. Youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities often face a variety of barriers in accessing and managing their health care when they reach adulthood. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has created a comprehensive toolkit called Transition to Adulthood: A Health Care Guide for Youth and Families.

The toolkit does not focus just on those young adults on the autism spectrum, and many of the tools in the kit are of use to any family. The toolkit provides information on:

  • How to choose a source of health care coverage
  • How to create a health care support network
  • How to integrate health care transition goals into individual educational plans (IEPs), beginning in middle or high school
  • How to manage their own health care

The toolkit also provides guides and worksheets for keeping track of health care records, making doctor’s appointments, and talking to doctors about health concerns. Health care services and supports are often plentiful for children, but lacking for adults. Use the toolkit to help prepare your child for managing with their health care needs in adulthood.

News from National Convention—Resolutions

At the 2018 National PTA Convention in New Orleans, delegates adopted one new resolution and amended another existing resolution. The first resolution addresses students with disabilities, while the second focuses on mental health programs and services. The links to the resolutions here are to the proposed text and amendments, which were only slightly modified by the convention delegates. The final text of the resolutions will be posted on the National PTA Resolutions pagein the near future.

Resolution on High Expectations for Students with Disabilities

As the new resolution on high expectations for students with disabilitiesnotes, more than half of all students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their school day in general education classes. These students need both quality general education instruction and targeted interventions and accommodations. For students with disabilities, time in general education classes lead to fewer absences, less disruptive behavior, and better outcomes after high school, as well as new learning opportunities for students without disabilities.

Yet for students with disabilities, there continues to be a gap between the achievement of these students and those without disabilities. Research has shown that teacher expectations for students with disabilities, parental expectations for their children’s academic achievement, and students’ own mindsets all play key roles in their success.

The resolution directs National PTA and all PTAs under it (including local PTAs) to:

  • Collaborate with school communities to include students with disabilities and their families in all school activities.
  • Support peer mentoring, collaborative problem solving, cooperative working groups, and more casual or unstructured interactions between student with disabilities and those without disabilities.
  • Include a relevant general educator present at Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.
  • Support funding for teacher professional development regarding adapting instruction to meet the needs of students with disabilities, accommodations that improve access to the general curriculum, and high expectations for all students regarding both academics and behavior.
  • Support implementation of best practices to meet the needs of diverse students, including Universal Design for Learning (UDL), inclusion, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and Response to Intervention (RTI).
  • Support students with disabilities access to accommodations, including assistive technology.

Amended Resolution on Children’s Emotional Health and Mental Health Awareness

The convention delegates amended the 1969 resolution on Children’s Emotional Health to address mental health issues as well. The amended resolution notes that mental health issues in children have increased in recent years, with 20% of youth ages 13 to 18 living with a mental health condition. Furthermore, 79% of students ages 6 to 17 with mental health disorders do not receive mental health care. The average delay between the onset of symptoms and the beginning of treatment for these children is 8 to 10 years.

The amended resolution calls on National PTA and its constituent associations to:

  • Support efforts to establish comprehensive community mental health providers that offer preventative and treatment services to children and adults, as well as comprehensive school mental health programs that include adequate access to school psychologies, school counselors, and school social workers.
  • Advocate for teacher and administrator training to improve the understanding of child emotional and mental health needs, with an emphasis on the importance of establishing a school climate conducive to good mental health.
  • Promote education programs for parents and families to strengthen understanding and supportive home environments.
  • Support efforts to provide education and other supports for school staff and professional development to assist with addressing and early detection of mental health issues.