Making the Decision to Return to In-Person School: A Parent’s Decision-Making Tool Kit
As public schools begin to reopen in California with in-person classes, there many questions that parents have about safety guidelines and accommodations being made for their disabled children. The changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the sudden shift to remote learning left many parents confused and students struggling to receive an education. Now, with vaccines made available for individuals 12-years and older and the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant, there is still much uncertainty about how to proceed with in-person classes.
We at Woodsmall Law Group have stood by many parents over the past year to get their children the free appropriate public education (FAPE) they deserve under state and federal law. To ensure you can make an informed decision about your child’s education, we have created a guide to help you understand how to keep your child safe and what you can do to uphold their rights to an education.
Protecting Your Child From COVID-19
Your child’s health and safety come first in all matters, especially with their education. Despite early adoption of masks and a widespread vaccination program, COVID-19 cases have risen throughout California, and reports of outbreaks in Florida and Texas schools have caused concern among parents. The CDC has acknowledged the difficult choice in front of parents and has provide several ways for parents to make informed decisions about whether to return their children to in-person classes:
- Research current COVID-19 infection rates in your community
- Learn about current vaccination rates in your area
- Determine the ages of students at your child’s school (children 12-years or older are eligible for vaccinations, minimizing the risk of an outbreak)
- Review your child’s school’s mask policy and accommodations
- Learn about California’s schools COVID-19 testing procedures
Vaccines, face coverings, and social distance are the best protections against COVID-19 infections. If your child is eligible for a vaccine, you can find a vaccination center and schedule an appointment through the California Department of Public Health.
What To Expect: California COVID-19 Guidelines at Public Schools
The California Department of Education (CDE) has outlined several guidelines for K-12 schools for limiting COVID-19 infections and ensure a safe and healthy environment for students. These include:
- Mask Requirements: In conjunction with the Department of Public Health, the CDE requires all students and staff to wear face coverings while indoors at schools, with some exceptions. Children who have difficulties wearing masks due to a disability may be allowed to attend classes without having to wear masks and cannot be denied access to an education.
- Testing Procedures: Alongside mask requirements, California does require schools to prepare and implement testing strategies on-site at schools. Schools can have different procedures depending on the infection rates in their local communities, with schools in low-risk areas only having to perform periodic tests and larger schools requiring weekly or biweekly tests. Periodic testing may be required for at least 10% of unvaccinated or asymptomatic students and staff, and these tests may be conducted at a random rate, meaning not all students and staff will be tested.
- Vaccinations: Currently, teachers and other staff as well as students are required to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly tests. This applies to one-on-one aides, special education teachers, and counselors as well.
Your Child’s Right to an Education
The new COVID-19 guidelines are designed to protect students from severe infections, but these restrictions cannot impede on your child’s right to FAPE. The CDE acknowledges the impact of these new safety guidelines on children with disabilities and has issued guidelines on how to create the least restrictive classroom environment.
Among these rules are face mask exemptions for children with disabilities. As mentioned earlier, a child may not be denied access to a classroom or an education if they are unable to wear a face mask on their own. Schools are required to uphold a student’s right to an education in the least restrictive environment and must make appropriate accommodations. In addition, students with IEPs must still be granted the supports and services outlined in their IEPs during emergency circumstances, including pandemics, according to EC 56345(a)(9). Students and parents cannot be denied special education assessments, IEP meetings, or other procedures due to the pandemic.
If you are facing difficulties getting your disabled child accommodations, services, or supports from a Los Angeles school, reach out to our team at Woodsmall Law Group. Our Los Angeles special education attorneys can sit down with you in a free consultation and explain you and your child’s rights. We can provide strong legal representation during mediation and due process hearings. Call us today at (626) 440-0028 to discuss your child’s situation.