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Special Education in the Time of COVID-19

First, I hope everyone is staying healthy and safe.On March 12, 2020, the United States Education Department and the New York State Education Department each issued guidelines on how public school districts should proceed in the event that school closures were necessary. In particular, the U.S. Education Department issued a specific guidance about what schools should do for students with IEPs and 504 plans. It’s important to note that the guidance states that it does not create legal obligations. It’s just a really strong suggestion. Same thing goes for the New York State Education Department’s guidance - it asks districts to “please consider” a list of suggestions. So keep that in mind.

The U.S. Ed. Dept. Guidance addresses several scenarios:

If the District has a complete shut down and isn’t providing education to anyone else, they don’t have to provide services to students with IEPs or 504 plans.

If a closed District is providing education to the general population (like remote learning), they’ve got to provide equal access and try to provide special education and related services

Homebound instruction should be provided to infected students who are absent for 10 days or more. An IEP meeting should be called to designate the change in placement. If other students are being taught during this period, online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls should be considered.

If the child does NOT receive services during the extended absence, the school must determine whether compensatory education or services are necessary

If your child attends a public school for students with disabilities that is selectively closed because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the District must determine whether each student would benefit from online or virtual instruction or instructional telephone calls. If the student doesn’t receive instruction or services during the closure, an “individualized determination” needs to be made about whether “compensatory services are needed to make up for skills that have been lost.”

If school is open, but your child with a disability is not allowed to attend as a temporary emergency measure because of COVID-19, this is NOT a change in placement and instruction can be provided through phone calls and the internet If the exclusion is for more than 10 days, then the parent or school can call a meeting to review placement options. In the case of the long-term exclusion, the parent can challenge the ‘team’ recommendations in a due process proceeding.

In all instances, distance learning can be considered as a contingency plan and added to the IEP. The New York State guidance pretty much repeats the above, but encourages Districts to develop communication protocols. Hang in, folks. This, too, shall pass.

Here is the link to the Federal guideline:

Here is the link to the New York State Education Department Guideline:

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