Policy Update: Special Education Rights and Decriminalizing HIV

As Illinois wraps up its first full legislative session since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Legal Council is taking a moment to reflect on legislative victories in the health justice movement. Our advocates worked tirelessly alongside our partners to advance policies that improve special education services for Illinois students, as well as a long overdue bill that would end the criminalization of HIV in Illinois.

Special Education:

House Bill 2748 (Rep. Ness and Sen. Koehler): This bill applies to students with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) who turned 22 and “aged out” of their programs while their schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing most of those students whose schools closed to in-person instruction for at least three months the option to return to their schools for a final year of transition services and develop a plan for moving forward. The final year of these young adults’ education is absolutely necessary for many of their transitions into adult life, and we are glad to see the state recognize this need. 

House Bill 3950 (Lead sponsors: Rep. LaPointe and Sen. Fine):  This is another piece of legislation with the purpose of supporting students with IEPs. This bill requires all students with these educational plans to be informed about their districts’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at all of their IEP meetings beginning at age 14 and a half. The IEP team, including the student and their parents/guardians, will determine whether a particular CTE program would be valuable in helping them achieve their goals. This bill will ensure that all students are connected to meaningful and appropriate opportunities for their development. HB3950 also requires community colleges to develop programming for students with disabilities to participate in dual credit or non-credit courses. Students whose academic skills would prevent them from being admitted to any courses currently offered by the community college will now have the ability to share in the college experience. House Bill 3950 has been passed by both legislative houses and has been sent to Governor Pritzker for signature.

House Bill 2425 (Lead sponsors: Rep. Crespo and Sen. Koehler): Extended the statute of limitations for students affected by Chicago Public Schools’ illegal policies in the 2016-2018 school years to file state complaints against the school district. Many students entitled to special education plans had their services illegally delayed or denied in this period, and students and their families now have until September 2022 to file complaints, rather than September 2021. House Bill 2425 has been passed by both houses and has been sent to Governor Pritzker for signature.

Thank you to all of the sponsors of these bills for prioritizing the well-being of Illinois students, and thank you to our partners at Access Living for their incredible advocacy and leadership in this work.

HIV Decriminalization

House Bill 1063 (Lead sponsors: Rep. Ammons and Sen. Peters): The HIV Decriminalization Bill ends harmful criminal penalties against people living with HIV. This legislation has been passed by both chambers and now awaits Governor Pritzker’s signature. Since Legal Council’s founding as an organization dedicated to advancing the rights of people living with HIV, we have seen the harmful and stigmatizing effects the criminalization of HIV transmission has had on this community and have fought against this injustice. For years, this ineffective law has only served to further stigmatize and criminalize a whole class of people even when their conduct poses little or no risk of HIV transmission, and the stigma produced from this law has disincentivized people from being tested for the virus. This law was a disaster for those living with HIV, and disproportionately affected people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The tireless efforts of all of our partners in the Illinois HIV Action Alliance and the support from the bill’s sponsors made this essential change possible.

Legal Council is encouraged by the progress Illinois has made in ensuring justice for students with disabilities and those living with HIV, and by the continued momentum in pushing for the changes we still must make to achieve health justice for all.