Federal Guidance and Advocacy During COVID-19
With the 2020-2021 school year upon us, and most local school districts beginning the year in a distance learning format, many families may be wondering about their options in advocating for their child with special needs. Federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Education in recent months provides a roadmap to working collaboratively with school districts to ensure your child’s needs are met during this difficult time.
Federal Special Education Guidance
On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (“USDOE”) issued guidance regarding the provision of special education services during the COVID-19 outbreak that is still in effect. Under this guidance, the USDOE advised that if your local district continues to provide educational opportunities to the student population, the school must ensure that students with disabilities have “equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE.” Districts in this scenario must “make every effort to provide special education and related services in accordance with the child’s IEP,” and “must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA.” IEP teams should also examine whether compensatory services are needed to make up for skills lost.
On June 22 and June 30, 2020, the USDOE issued updated guidance regarding dispute resolution procedures during COVID, parental consent, prior written notice, and educational records requests. Due process procedures and state compliance procedures are in effect during physical school closures and are permitted to occur virtually through video or phone conferencing platforms. Electronic signatures on assessment plans and IEPs are acceptable, but districts must ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure parental consent is informed and voluntary, and student privacy rights are maintained. Further, districts are still required to issue a prior written notice and “should make every effort to ensure that written notice is provided as soon as possible prior to the proposed or refused action.” Moreover, districts are required to provide access to educational records within 45 days of a request pursuant to federal regulations and can provide access to records electronically as long as reasonable methods are utilized to ensure privacy rights are protected.
To review this guidance and more, please visit: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus/program-information
Using Federal Guidance to Advocate for Your Child
If you find that your child is having difficulty accessing education and related services through a distance learning model, work with your local district to address these concerns by calling an IEP team meeting. At the meeting, the above federal guidance can provide a roadmap for addressing your concerns.
For instance, knowing that the USDOE requires districts to “make every effort to provide special education and related services” during distance learning, you can discuss with the IEP team what efforts have been made to provide the services in your child’s IEP. Request documentation or data logs that show how IEP goals are being addressed and how services have been delivered. Additionally, understanding that districts “must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible” services and supports in the IEP are being provided, the team should discuss how your child can access the education and services in their IEP during remote learning. Ask about the supports, equipment, and services needed to ensure the IEP can be implemented. The goal of this discussion should be to understand what the IEP team has done previously to implement the IEP and how to ensure access to education and related services moving forward. If appropriate, compensatory services should be discussed to address regression in skills during distance learning.
We understand distance learning remains an obstacle for many children with special needs, and there is fear of further regression with continued remote learning in the fall. We encourage families to work collaboratively with their school teams to find the appropriate solutions for their child’s unique needs using federal and state guidance. Woodsmall Law Group remains open during this difficult time to support our families and answer any questions you have. Together with our school partners and local community at-large, we strive to do our part in successfully navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.
To access this and other special education articles online, please visit our website.