In May 2017, the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) issued a memorandum concerning eligibility determinations for children suspected of having visual impairment under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”). The ultimate purpose of the memorandum is to assist school districts in reaching appropriate eligibility determinations for children with visual impairment disabilities. More recently the Illinois Vision Leadership Council released a letter sent to special education directors emphasizing their view as to the two most important takeaways from the OSEP memorandum.
The memorandum specifies that the definition of “visual impairment including blindness” means an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Thus, the term encompasses both partial sight and blindness. Moreover, the definition is broad, and, notably, does not include any modifiers, such as the words “severe” or “significant.” Accordingly, districts are prohibited from narrowing this definition by adding its own modifiers.
Likewise, districts cannot include any exclusionary criteria, such as requiring that a child have one or more conditions that the district has pre-identified as conditions which affect a child’s vision, before concluding that the child suffers from a visual impartment as defined under IDEA. While it is permissible for a district to provide examples of the types of conditions that would satisfy “visual impairment including blindness” under IDEA, a district may not preclude eligibility teams from considering whether other vision conditions, even with correction, adversely affect the child’s education performance such that the child requires special education and related services under IDEA.
Furthermore, the memorandum clarifies that while a district can request existing ocular reports to gather information about the child’s vision status, it cannot require it in order to consider opening a case study or determining a vision impaired eligibility. Although nothing prevents the district from obtaining a medical diagnosis, doing so will be entirely at the district’s expense. In addition, the medical diagnosis is not to be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate educational program for the child.
To help districts gain a better understanding of the requirements outlined in OSEP’s May 2017 memorandum, the Illinois Vision Leadership Council released a letter emphasizing the two most important takeaways from the OSEP memorandum. The two key takeaways are: (1) districts must take the time to review their vision criteria to ensure that it broadly interprets “visual impairment including blindness”; and (2) districts must make certain that such criteria does not require that an outside source, such as any eye doctor, confirm a visual impairment.