Q: Do schools have to continue to provide special education services to students with disabilities during school closures for COVID? What is different for COVID special education?
A: Yes. The Department of Education has been very clear– IEPs and special education services are to be implemented during school closures and distance learning.
Q: Must a school follow special education laws and timelines during distance learning?
A: Yes. There are no waivers of special education requirements at this time. Schools must implement IEPs and provide special education services. In developing “distance learning plans” teams should start with the child’s approved IEP and make every attempt to implement the services and accommodations on the approved IEP. Parents, parent advocates, special education attorneys, and IEP teams should be flexible and creative to find a plan that works.
Q: Can districts unilaterally make decisions about which special education services from a child’s IEP will be provided during school closures without parent input?
A: No. The MSDE guidance clearly says that while parental “consent” is not required, there should be an “agreement” between parents and districts (similarly, annual IEP reviews in Maryland are done by “agreement” and not “consent”). This plan should be based on individualized determinations.
Q: Can districts reduce services for students with IEPs?
A: IEPs should be implemented. (See the period after that sentence?) It is not acceptable for districts to say that they are reducing services by a certain percentage across the board for all students, for example. Or that no children can get a particular thing. Every decision must be individual to what that student needs. There may be some (very few) situations where services are changed because it is impossible to implement that service from a distance.
Q: Must parents accept the “distance learning plan” sent to them by the district?
A: Like all IEP decisions, parents are part of the decision making team. Parents can request changes to plans suggested by the district. Parents should request (remote) IEP meetings to discuss the plan. Parents should consider whether they need assistance from a special education advocate or education attorney.
Q: What about related services like speech language therapy?
A: The Department of Education specifically mentions direct speech language services as something that can be provided effectively through video conferencing. Other related special education services can similarly be provided in alternative methods during school closures related to Coronavirus. In short, if it can be provided virtually, it should be.
Q: Should modifications and accommodations be provided as part of distance learning?
A: Yes. For example, extension of time for assignments, captioning, embedded sign language, and accessible reading materials should all be provided.
Q: Will school systems have to make up (provide compensatory services) to students who miss services during closures once schools reopen?
A: In some cases. There will need to be an individual determination whether to provide make up (compensatory) services to make up for missed services once schools reopen. It is critical that parents document their children’s progress or regression during this time. You may want to seek assistance on how and when to best do this.
Q: What about small group or one-on-one reading (or other academic) intervention?
A: Specific small group or one-on-one reading intervention that is on the child’s regular IEP should continue during distance learning. Also, students who did not need reading or other intervention before may fall behind during distance learning. Parents and schools should assess children to ensure they are still making appropriate progress academically. For emerging readers, this time is critical!
If you need advice from an education lawyer or special education advocate, you can schedule a call HERE.
THIS BLOG SHOULD BE USED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP WITH ANY READER AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE.
Reliable sources of additional information:
US DOE Supplemental Fact Sheet (Open as PDFs)
Maryland Technical Assistance Bulletin
Disability Rights Maryland
Padlet of MD Continuity of Learning Plans, including special education: https://padlet.com/decodingdyslexiamd/MDSchoolDistrictsCOL
Data Collection for Parents with Dr. Nathan Clemens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_CCMeEwhJg