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Understanding Special Education

Special education services provided by Chicago Public Schools through the Office for Students with Disabilities are 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.

Illinois State Board of Education

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)

    The CPS Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework that guides schools and teachers to provide appropriate instruction and interventions to ensure all students receive the education and supports they need to be successful in school.

    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:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • 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

504 Plans

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.

Additional information:
U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights

Procedural Safeguards

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.

Office for Students with Disabilities


773-553-1801 (Fax)

42 W. Madison St.
Chicago, IL 60602

Have Questions?

Complete and submit this form to provide feedback or request assistance and support for your child on special education topics such as remote learning.

Join the Diverse Learner mailing list to stay informed.

For questions around special education services, please contact the OSD District Representative or Special Education Administrator assigned to your school, Parent Involvement Specialists are also available.

For concerns specific to your child's school nursing services, please review this document. You may also contact us directly using the information below.

Contact Information

School Assignment Services

Student Transportation

Nursing Information
(773) 553-Kids (5437)

SSCA Helpline