Governor Pritzker recently signed into law Public Act 102-0466 (House Bill 3223), which makes changes and additions to the School Code to support students who are parents, expectant parents, or victims of domestic or sexual violence. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2025, except that several provisions noted below must be in place a year earlier. With changes to the Title IX regulations expected before 2025, how this new law will align with schools’ obligations under Title IX – or if additional amendments to this State law will be made prior to 2024 – remains to be seen. We will monitor developments to assist schools with implementation as we get closer to the effective date. We have outlined some of the highlights of the new law, including changes related to disciplinary hearings, home instruction, excused absences, and new policies, procedures, and trainings.
Suspension and Expulsion
Public Act 102-0466 amends Section 10-22.6 of the School Code regarding student suspension review and expulsion hearings to state that students may disclose any factors they would like to be considered as mitigation, including the student’s status as a parent, expectant parent, or victim of domestic or sexual violence. If a school district has a policy providing that a suspended or expelled transfer student must complete the entire term of the suspension or expulsion before being admitted, it must also include a provision in the policy allowing for the consideration of mitigating factors.
In addition, the new law requires school districts to allow a parent or student to have a representative or support person of their choice represent the student throughout suspension review or expulsion proceedings, including at the hearing. This practice was already standard but is now codified. The new law allows school districts to limit a representative’s participation if they engage in behavior or advocacy that harasses, abuses, or intimidates a party, witness, or anyone else in attendance at the hearing. Further, in suspension review and expulsion hearings that involve allegations of sexual violence, the student subject to discipline or their representative may suggest questions to be posed by the school board or its appointed hearing officer to the alleged victim, but neither the student nor their representative are permitted to directly question or have direct contact with the alleged victim.
Home Instruction and Attendance
The law previously provided for home instruction for pregnant students who were unable to attend school, as well as for up to three months following the birth of a child or miscarriage. The new law expands home instruction to students who are unable to attend school because of the need to care for an ill child when the child has a serious health condition that would require the student to be absent from school for two or more consecutive weeks. The law also expands the availability of home instruction to students who must treat physical or mental complications or address safety concerns arising from domestic or sexual violence, causing an absence from school for two or more consecutive weeks. The law clarifies that students receiving home instruction cannot be penalized for grading purposes or denied course completion, a return to regular classroom instruction, grade level advancement, or graduation solely based on their participation in home instruction or absence from the regular education program. At the same time, the option for home instruction in these circumstances does not relieve the district of any obligation to provide support services so that such students can continue to attend regular classes.
Additionally, the new law adds to the valid causes for absence: attendance at a verified medical or therapeutic appointment and appointments with a victim services provider. For students who are expectant parents or parents, a valid cause for absence also includes fulfilling parenting responsibilities, including arranging and providing child care, caring for a sick child, and attending prenatal appointments and medical appointments for a child. For students who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, a valid cause for absences also includes addressing circumstances resulting from that violence, including recovering from injuries, seeking services from a domestic or sexual violence organization, relocating, seeking legal assistance or remedies, and other actions to protect the student.
Most significantly, Public Act 102-0466 creates a new article in the School Code—Article 26A. Article 26A creates the Ensuring Success in School Task Force, which will be responsible for drafting and publishing model policies and identifying new trainings that are survivor-centered and rooted in trauma-informed responses to support students who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence. The new law also identifies the individuals required to be on the task force and requirements for policies and trainings, which must be reported out by June 30, 2024.
In addition, Article 26A requires schools to:
- No later than July 1, 2024, and every 2 years thereafter, review and revise all existing policies and procedures that may act as a barrier to the immediate enrollment and re-enrollment, attendance, graduation, and success in school of any student who is a parent, expectant parent, or victim of domestic or sexual violence or any policies and procedures that may compromise a criminal investigation relating to domestic or sexual violence or may re-victimize students. The district’s policies must provide for procedures for a student or parent to report alleged domestic or sexual violence; the new law outlines requirements for these procedures.
- On or before July 1, 2024, adopt a procedure to resolve complaints of violations of Section 26A by the school or district. Requirements for the complaint procedure are included in the new law, including that individuals responsible for the resolution of such complaints must complete significant and continuing training. This procedure can be used to challenge the district’s finding regarding responsibility for sexual violence, seeming to add additional layers of appeal to the Title IX grievance procedure.
- Adopt a policy to ensure all information concerning a student’s status and related experience as a parent, expectant parent, or victim of domestic or sexual violence is confidential, unless released under certain enumerated circumstances.
- By June 30, 2024, designate or appoint at least one staff person at each school who is a school social worker, school psychologist, school counselor, school nurse, or school administrator to address the needs of students who are parents, expectant parents, or victims of domestic or sexual violence. The new law also describes the individual’s duties and training requirements.
- Provide in-school support services and information regarding non-school based support services and the ability to make up work for students who are parents, expectant parents, or victims of domestic or sexual violence. The new law also details the requirements for such support services.
The new law provides that when a student asserts their rights related to domestic or sexual violence, the school may require verification of the claim by one of the following: written statement from the student or witness; police report or court record; documentation from a domestic or sexual violence organization; documentation from a lawyer, clergy person, medical professional, or other professional from whom the student sought services; or other evidence. Two forms of verification may be required if a student requests a transfer to another school. Finally, the new law prohibits retaliation based on the exercise of rights under the new law, opposition to violations of the law, or support of the exercise of rights under the law.
Please contact the authors of this alert or any Franczek P.C. attorney with any questions.