With School districts planning for a return to school and in-person instruction, whether hybrid or full time, parents of student returning to school buildings with IEPs and 504 Plans have their work cut out for them, and many are asking about “compensatory services.” In some districts, parents will have a choice as to whether or when their child will be returning to school in person. If your child is doing well with virtual learning, and/or has extreme anxiety about returning to the building, those are important considerations, and parents should trust their role as the expert in their own child’s individual circumstances and needs. On the other hand, some children’s academic or social progress has been slowed or halted, and the sooner they can return to school, the better. Parents may want to get expert advice from their child’s pediatrician, therapist, or an educational consultant or education attorney.
Schedule An IEP Meeting
The first and most important thing you can do is to schedule an IEP meeting to discuss your child’s “Present Levels of Performance.” “Present Levels” is a formal term used in the IEP document that means exactly what it says– it is documentation of how your child is doing right now. Your child’s present level of performance may be different now from what it was before distance learning. You and the IEP team should consider what information you have about how your child is doing, and whether your child needs any tests or assessments (formal or informal) to determine where they are after a year at home. You should also talk about what services your child may have missed as part of a discussion about “compensatory services.” More on that below.
Present Levels of Performance – What Information Do You Already Have?
You are the expert on your child. I say that all the time. However, during school-at-home, you were also your child’s teacher, administrator, and tutor. Many parents are reporting that they know a whole lot more about their child as a learner than they did before school-at-home. You need to share what you know. If you see a weakness that wasn’t previously identified, that weakness should be explored. Share data, notes you kept, work samples, and your experiences with your child during this time that reflect academic struggles and possible regression due to loss of instruction and supports.
Present Levels of Performance — What New Information Do You need?
When was the last time your child was formally evaluated to determine their progress? Do they need a new assessment? This may apply to academic performance like reading or math, or to communication needs, occupational, or speech therapy progress, or behavior. School teams are required to reevaluate children with IEPs at least every three years, but can reevaluate any time the team agrees that it is needed. After a year at home, when students are getting ready to return to school, most students with IEPs will need to be reevaluated in at least some of their specific areas of need. Consider whether you want to have these evaluations done by the school team (as is your right), or, whether you would prefer to go outside the school system to get private evaluations. Practically, private evaluations may be the most timely option at this point, given backlogs in public schools. A special education attorney can help you determine whether these private evaluations should be paid for by the school system.
New or Different Services or Supports
Based on the results of this new information about your child’s present levels, including both formal assessments and informal information from you and your child’s teachers, your child may need new or different services than they had before. Since IEP services are based on “Present Levels of Performance,” if your child’s needs have changed, their services and supports should also change. Your son who was doing just fine in math before virtual learning may need more support when they return to school. Your daughter may need a more intensive level of services than before schools closed if she has not made progress in reading, or has fallen further behind.
And, this is not just about academics. Many, many students’ behavioral needs have changed. We are dealing with unprecedented levels of anxiety, especially among adolescents. Schools are required under the law to provide needed special education supports and services, including emotional and behavioral supports. Parents need to consider what emotional supports or accommodations their child needs in order to manage the return to a school building. Does anything need to be added to the IEP or 504 plan? These are appropriate issues to discuss with the IEP team. As parents, you can then evaluate whether your child also needs emotional or mental health support outside the school system.
Compensatory Services After School Closures
Many parents have questions about compensatory services for their children after Covid-19 school closures. “Compensatory Services” refer to the make-up service a school district is required to provide when they “miss” or do not provide services under a child’s IEP for one reason or another. This applies to services missed because of COVID school closures, since rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that provides special education, were not put on hold during closures or distance learning. However, this is not a new concept and has been around long before COVID related school closures. There are well established principles and procedures for considering compensatory services, and as far as we know right now, those are the principles and procedures school districts must use. How this will work is an area that special education attorneys and education advocates are keeping a close eye on. New guidance may be provided at both the state and federal levels. The fact is that many, if not all students with IEPs will be entitled to compensatory services. This, along with revisiting the present levels and services on your child’s IEP, is one of the most important return-to-school issues where you might consider consulting with a special education attorney.
Whew! We sure are asking for a lot. That’s true. And we would encourage parents to approach teachers and school staff with compassion and grace. But a kind approach does not mean putting aside your essential responsibility as a parent to protect your child. Just like you are the number one expert on your child, you are truly your child’s primary, and most important advocate. Seek help and don’t give up.
The difference between kids who overcome their struggles and challenges, and the ones who get caught up in them, is an adult who didn’t give up, who sought help when they needed it, and who absolutely demanded what they knew was right for that child. THREE! truly inspirational stories about just this are Amanda Gorman, Greta Thunberg, and this Humans of New York story.
Lastly, as with distance learning itself, there is going to be some wicked inequality in how this all shakes out. If you can– if you are the parent of a child who survived remote learning pretty darn well, or a professional with resources to offer, consider helping other families. Share knowledge where you can. Get involved with disability specific advocacy groups or with organizations working on the systemic issues raised by this crisis. We’ll see you there.
If you are worried about your child’s return to school or need for compensatory services, schedule a free call to discuss how a special education attorney or parent advocate can help.
This blog post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.