Since the IDEA’s precursor, the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act, almost 40 years ago, ISBE has regulated the size and staffing of special education classrooms. Class size was limited according to the disability category of the students in the class until 2007-2008, when the regulation transitioned to set class maximums based on the percentage of time the students in the class spent in a special education setting.
The definition of a general education class (70/30 rule) – one where at least 70% of students are general education students and the general education curriculum is taught by a general education teacher – is newer. That provision was added in 1999 in response to the consent decree in Corey H. (class action litigation challenging the alleged lack of inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes in the Chicago Public Schools).
The regulation (23 Ill. Admin. Code 226.730) exceeds the requirements of the IDEA and the Illinois School Code, neither of which mandate limits on special education class sizes or the percentage of general education students needed to have a general education class. ISBE recognized that the regulation limits school districts’ flexibility in class offerings and delivery models, as well as forces IEP teams and administrators to adhere to preset numbers rather than focusing on the individual needs of students. Of particular concern was the regulation’s unintended consequence of limiting the opportunities for inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes.
ISBE states that repealing the regulation would provide school districts with “the freedom, but also the responsibility, to ensure that the academic environment and services provided are appropriate, align with the student’s IEP and will enable him or her to meet the goals established for his or her learning.” The Illinois Principals Association, Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials have indicated support for ISBE’s proposed repeal of the regulation.
The Illinois State Advisory Council (ISAC) on the Education of Children with Disabilities, as well as many teachers and parents, however, have expressed concern that special education class sizes will balloon and general education teachers will not be equipped to deal with classes with many more special education students.
Public comment on the proposed repeal has ended. ISBE received an unprecedented number of comments weighing in on the proposal. ISBE is expected to vote on the proposal in August. If approved, the repeal could take effect, after JCAR review, in the late fall.