The IEP Process During COVID-19 School Closures
During this unprecedented situation, we at Woodsmall Law Group want to take a moment to discuss the changes related to your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE IDEA AND SECTION 504 DURING COVID-19 SCHOOL CLOSURES
After Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-26-20 on March 4, 2020, schools will continue to receive state funding to provide “high-quality educational opportunities to students to the extent feasible through, among other options, distance learning and/or independent study.” These high-quality educational opportunities are not limited to general education students. If your school district is providing remote educational opportunities, the school district must also ensure that students with disabilities can access these opportunities in accordance with their obligation to provide a Fair and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This includes implementing related services and support in your child’s IEP or 504 plan to the greatest extent possible.
The United States Department of Education (USDOE) Office of Special Education Program’s (OSEP) issued guidance on this topic on March 21, 2020:
“[T]hese exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and support are provided…the provision of [FAPE] may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically ..schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner that they are typically provided…federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency.”
The CDE has encouraged Local Education Agencies (LEAs), meaning school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools, to work collaboratively with families, teachers, providers, Non-public Schools, and Non-public Agencies to continue your child’s special education services and support to the maximum extent possible. Services and support in your child’s IEP or 504 plan that can be effectively rendered under a distance learning model should continue to be provided by your school during this time.
LEAs must also plan for appropriate modifications and accommodations to account for the change from a traditional classroom to a virtual modality. These services must be appropriately tailored to the needs of your child. If your school cannot provide certain special education support and services, your LEA should consider alternative delivery options, including virtual delivery platforms, in-home service delivery, or other appropriate locations to deliver necessary services. However, please keep in mind that these alternative delivery models should comply with social distancing guidelines from federal, state, and local health official guidance in order to protect the health and safety of students, teachers, and providers.
WHERE TO GO FOR SUPPORT WITH YOUR CHILD’S IEP MEETING
Communication and collaboration with your school and district are essential during this difficult time. The starting point for understanding any changes to your child’s IEP or 504 plan is to reach out to your child’s school or district as each district has implemented its own unique response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDE has also encouraged each district to maintain regular contact with families, provide updates on distance learning programs, and address concerns related to students’ immediate support needs and ability to access the educational curriculum.
IEP TIMELINES IN LIGHT OF COVID-19 SCHOOL CLOSURES
The federal government has not waived the federal requirements under the IDEA at this time. LEAs are encouraged to try to adhere to federal timelines to the maximum extent possible, including using remote technology to meet with families. While each district handles this process differently, we have seen certain school districts have success with holding IEP meetings through telephone and video conferencing.
The CDE has also issued the following guidance on this issue:
“In general, for purposes of determining LEA compliance with special education timelines, the CDE will consider the days of school site closure as days between the pupil’s regular school session, similar to school breaks in excess of five days planned in the instructional calendar (e.g. Thanksgiving break). For annual or triennial IEP reviews that fall on a day when the LEA is closed due to COVID-19, the CDE will take the exceptional circumstances causing the delay into consideration for purposes of LEA compliance monitoring.”
CONVENING AN IEP OR 504 MEETING
The CDE has stated that LEAs do not generally need to hold an IEP or 504 meeting to strictly address changes related to distance learning. If a previously agreed upon service in the child’s IEP is now being provided remotely or through distance learning, the school district will also not need to obtain parents’ written consent.
However, there are special circumstances that require an IEP or 504 meeting. This includes when a student continues to require in-person support to access their educational curriculum and to maintain his or her mental/physical health and safety during the modified school day. An IEP or 504 meeting may also be necessary to brainstorm alternative delivery strategies for the student’s current services and support. If you have a concern related to the implementation of your child’s IEP, you still have the right to request an IEP pursuant to Education Code § 56343, subdivision (c).
Your school and LEA are here to help support the educational development of your child during this difficult time. If you have concerns related to your child’s IEP or 504 plan, you should always try to communicate and collaborate with school and LEA representatives to come up with creative solutions to meet your child needs.
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Woodsmall Law Group remains open to serve our community. If you have a question regarding this or material or would like to arrange a free one-hour consultation to discuss your child’s needs, please contact our offices at (626) 440-0028.
ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES
For more information on state guidance from CDE, please visit https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/specialedcovid19guidance.asp
For more information on Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order on March 4, 2020, please visit https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.13.20-EO-N-26-20-Schools.pdf
For more information on federal guidance from the US Department of Education (USDOE), please visit the USDOE website at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf
For information on federal and state-funded parent organizations that provide support and resources to families of students with disabilities, please see the CDE website at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/qa/caprntorg.asp
For state and national organizations offering practical advice and strategies for parents and caregivers during this crisis, please visit the Understood.org website at https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/coronavirus-latest-updates