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‘It will never happen again’: Illinois schools can no longer pull students with special needs out of classes when they turn 22

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CHICAGO, Ill. – Students with disabilities in Illinois are now able to finish the school year even if they turn 22 before then. Unfortunately, schools previously pulled many students from their classrooms when they reached the “age out” date.

Routine is important for anyone, but it’s critical for students with special needs. Many families dreaded the moment they would have to tell their children that they couldn’t go to school anymore.

Most of us remember the last days of high school and the celebrations during graduation. It’s a fun time with friends and teachers that helped you along the way. Students with disabilities had that taken away from them for years. But Illinois lawmakers wanted to right that wrong.

“Our laws are an expression of our values,” said Gov. JB Pritzker. “And there’s nothing kind about taking a student with disabilities out of the classroom on October 16 or on January 5 or on April 19 just because they turned another day older.”

With Pritzker’s signature of approval Wednesday, schools can no longer yank students out of classes on their 22nd birthday. Another new law allows students who aged out during the pandemic to return to school. They hope this can help students regain any learning time they lost.

This is a monumental change as many young people with disabilities are left waiting at home for adult services.

“They wait for up to ten years for services as an adult with disabilities,” said Southside Occupational Academy Principal Joshua Long. “In fact, the state of Illinois currently ranks 44th in the nation for funding for programs for adults with disabilities.”

Long says these new laws are just the beginning of changes. He’s also proud to say Illinois is moving forward with legislators that see students need their help.

Advocates feel this can address inequities for the disabled community and help students expand their ability to develop more valuable life skills.

“This bill has a huge impact on our young adults and all families as it will facilitate a smooth transition as they exit the school system,” said parent Anita Barazza.

At the end of the day, it’s all about improving life for students like Matt O’Loughlin.

“I’m happy that I can finish the school year,” O’Loughlin said. “And I am also sad when my friends have to leave when they’re 22.”

O’Loughlin thanked lawmakers for making it possible for students to finish the school year. Kelli Jones, a teacher at Southside, said the future is a scary thought for parents of children with autism.

“Many things have happened this year that would make one question the future,” Jones said. “I struggle to find the appropriate words to describe what it feels like to know one part of my daughter’s future. I’m thankful, I’m proud, and I’m delighted that today the governor of the great state of Illinois is signing a bill into law that guarantees my daughter and the other beautiful students like her the right to an educational future that is not cut short but instead furthered and allowed to flourish.”

Both laws are effective immediately.

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Mike Miletich

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