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Judge in Ill. Suspends Rule On Spec.-Ed. Assessments

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An Illinois judge has temporarily suspended a state rule that permits schools to re-evaluate children for special-education services without first obtaining parental consent.

In issuing a preliminary injunction last month against the rule promulgated by the state board of education, Cook County Circuit Judge Curtis Heaston said state law gives parents a "clear and lawful right" to consent to a change in their child's placement brought about by such re-evaluations, which are routinely conducted on special-education pupils every three years.

His order came in a class action filed by three parents of special-education students.

The suit is being supported by Parents United for Responsible Education, the Chicago parent-advocacy group that was instrumental in bringing about major reforms in that city's school system more than a year ago.

Two of the parents named in the lawsuit serve as chairmen of local school councils in the city, according to Wallace C. Winter, the lawyer representing the parents for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. "What the state has done really flies in the face of what we're trying to do with school reform, and that is involve more parents in their children's education," said Bernard Noven, chairman of the board of the parent group.

Mr. Noven, who is also a school social worker, also testified on behalf of the parents at last week's court hearing.

He noted that many of the parents he works with are often illiterate, do not speak English, or cannot easily be reached because they move frequently.

"Schools could go ahead and ... make a change in placement and parents could conceivably never know about it," he said.

"Having that signature is the only guarantee we have that anybody from the school has talked to parents," he added.

Federal Law

State school officials contended that they sought to drop the parental-consent requirement to comply with federal special-education law. The federal law requires schools to obtain parents' permission for an initial screening but not for a re- evaluation. Illinois is among roughly a dozen states that require some form of parental consent for both screenings. (See Education Week, L$Sept. 12, 1990.)

In November, the state board of education approved the new rule permitting the re-evaluations to take place without parents' permission.

Judge Heaston's order, however, prohibits state school officials from enforcing the rule. It also blocks last week's planned distribution of new re-evaluation forms that contain no provision for obtaining parental consent.

The forms also would have inL formed parents of their rights to re quest a due-process hearing if they disagree with the results of their children's evaluation.

Mr. Winter argued that few parents would exercise that right.

"It's a daunting thing for parents to ask for a due-process hearing," he said, "but it's a different thing for parents to say they're not going to give consent.

A lawyer for the state school board last week said the board had not decided whether to appeal the judge's decision.

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