COVID-19 and IEP Services During a National Emergency

With Schools Closed, Parents Question Services for Their Children

Within the last month all School Districts in New Hampshire and Vermont have closed K-12 schools in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus and have moved to remote learning. This has left some parents questioning how this impacts the rights of students with disabilitiesThe U.S. Department of Education, the New Hampshire Department of Education, and the Vermont Agency of Education have published a number of documents providing guidance to School Districts regarding special education during this pandemic.  Essentially, these documents can be broken down into four guiding principles, which are as follows:

  1. If a school closes and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then a school would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time.
  2. If a school continues to provide educational services to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. Any failure to provide services to students with disabilities could be construed as disability discrimination.
  3. If remote educational services are provided, schools must ensure, to the extent possible, that each student with a disability is provided the special education and related services in the student’s IEP.
  4. Once schools reopen, IEP teams must make decisions, on an individualized basis, as to whether students with disabilities should receive compensatory educational services. Compensatory education is intended to “make up” for lost time and lost services.  It can take many forms- extra services, a longer school day, extended eligibility after age 21 or 22 (depending on the state), etc.  The team can be creative.

So what does this mean for parents and guardians that have children with disabilities?

  1. If your child’s school has not already been in contact with you regarding how services will be delivered during this pandemic, you can request an IEP team meeting. While IEP teams are not meeting face-to-face, they are holding telephonic or video meetings to discuss how services can be provided.
  2. If you have any questions about how services are being provided to your child, you can also request an IEP team meeting to discuss this.
  3. If your child’s school is not responding to your requests for an IEP team meeting or has not provided services, you should consider contacting an attorney or filing a complaint with either the New Hampshire Department of Education, the Vermont Agency of Education, or the U.S. Department of Education.
  4. If your child has an upcoming re-evaluation, this may be postponed. However, some evaluations can be done remotely via video or through questionnaires.  Postponing these evaluations does not equal waiving the evaluations all together.  If your school requests that you waive re-evaluation, you should consider contacting an attorney or a special education advocate.
  5. For parents with children in special education day schools, ensuring that your children are receiving a FAPE is more problematic. There are certain aspects of these programs that are inherently difficult to provide remotely.  If you have any questions about the services being provided, you should consider contacting an attorney or a special education advocate.
  6. For parents with children in special education residential schools, unless you elect to withdraw your child during this pandemic, your child will likely be able to continue to stay at the residential school and be provided the majority of services contained in their IEP.

What will happen when schools re-open?

Once schools re-open, every student with a disability should have an IEP team meeting to discuss the transition back to school and to determine whether the student should receive compensatory educational services.  Questions that the IEP team should ask include the following:

  1. How long was the student’s school closed?
  2. Was the student provided instruction or services via an alternative method during the school closure?
  3. If so, were the alternative methods as beneficial for the student as the methods normally used to serve the student?
  4. What percentage of the student’s IEP-required instruction and services did the student receive?
  5. Are there any indications that the student regressed or lost any specific skills during the school closure?

Additionally, the IEP team should discuss whether the school closure or the virus caused the student to require either extended school year services or any additional specialized instruction or services.

Below are links that may provide you with additional information regarding a School District’s responsibility during this pandemic.

Also please know that if you have any questions or need assistance getting your child the services they need during this time or when they return to school, we are here to help.

© 2018 Ed Law | New England PLLC