Since 1994, PSLS has maintained a special project to deliver legal services to children between the ages of 3 and 21 who are wards of DCFS, and who need legal services to secure and protect their rights to special education and related services. Funding for this project comes from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
All children referred to PSLS under this project are wards of DCFS, meaning that DCFS is their court-appointed guardian. These children are placed by DCFS in the home of a family member or a foster parent. Depending on the age and capabilities of the child, our clients are either the child or the foster parent or family member. The opposing party is usually the local school district responsible for the child(ren).
Referrals under the project are made to PSLS either by a local DCFS office, by a delegate agency to which DCFS has assigned casework responsibility, or by a foster parent. Typically, they raise concerns about the child's educational environment or placement. In some cases, the issue involves a school's failure to identify a child as eligible for special education. In other cases, the issue involves the appropriateness of the special education and related services which the child may or may not be receiving, or the child's placement. Sometimes, the school proposes a change in placement through the expulsion process. In all cases, the goal is to assure that the child receives a free, appropriate public education.
A wide array of legal services is available. Project activities include: 1) participation and advocacy at Multidisciplinary Conferences (MDC meetings); 2) participation and advocacy at meetings to write the student's Individual Educational Plan (IEP meetings); 3) representation at expulsion and other disciplinary hearings, and finding alternatives to expulsion; 4) review of school records and evaluations; 5) setting up independent evaluations and re-evaluations; 6) sending letters and other forms of negotiation with school personnel; 7) representation in dispute proceedings, such as administrative due process hearings, complaints to the ISBE, or mediation; 8) representation in the state or federal courts.
In 1999, the project expanded to include referrals from DCFS of cases in which their wards are subject to expulsion by their local school districts. It is not a pre-requisite for acceptance of an expulsion case that the child be eligible for or receiving special education services.