Fair is Not Equal: Special Education and COVID Learning
The education landscape has changed significantly in the last 6 months. Educators and students have been forced to abruptly shift to mostly remote or online learning, and for most this has not been a smooth transition. Perhaps the most vulnerable group are those children who were in special education or receiving specific services in the traditional school setting.
Roughly 7 million public school students receive special education services.
However as districts and schools scrambled to create online learning plans in the spring, many services may have fallen through the cracks when standards and expectations were altered due to crisis conditions.
If you are the parent or family member of a child who receives special education or other services from your school district, it is important that you understand the rights your student has and how their services will be altered or affected as remote learning continues.
First and foremost, children who were eligible for special education or related services are entitled to receive services to assist with distance learning. While the format will likely change, every effort should be made to continue the support.
Additionally, parents or recipients of services must be informed of, and involved in, decisions relating to the provision of services.
While federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies.
Services typically provided in person may now need to be provided through alternative methods, requiring creative and innovative approaches.
This may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically.
Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online.
For example extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.
In addition, there are low- tech strategies that can provide for an exchange of curriculum-based resources, instructional packets, projects, and written assignments
If you are a parent or guardian of a child with an IEP and your school district has implemented distance learning, you have the right to an IEP team meeting to determine what homebound services would benefit your child, and you are entitled to those services at no charge
IEPs must be reviewed annually. Parents and the IEP Team may agree to conduct IEP meetings through alternate means such as videoconferencing or conference telephone calls.
In addition, the school and the parents may mutually agree to an extension of the timeline for the annual IEP review. Any agreement to extend the child’s existing IEP should be well documented by the school and shared with the parent.
Schools should make reasonable efforts to continue to collect and report progress on IEP goals to parents consistent with the schedule identified on the student’s IEP, even in situations where the school district has decided not to provide report cards.
Progress monitoring data will also be important information to consider in determining whether compensatory education services are required for a particular student when in-person learning resumes
Extended Absences due to COVID:
If your school is open but your child is required to stay home due to a condition that puts them at a heightened risk for COVID-19, there should be an IEP meeting to discuss appropriate accommodations for your child.
If a child with a disability is absent for an extended period of time because of a COVID-19 infection and the school remains open, then the IEP Team must determine whether the child is available for instruction and could benefit from homebound services such as online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, to the extent available.
EP teams may, but are not required to, include distance learning plans in a child’s IEP that could be triggered and implemented during a selective closure due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Such contingent provisions may include the provision of special education and related services at an alternate location or the provision of online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, and may identify which special education and related services, if any, could be provided at the child’s home.
At the end of the day, it is important that all parties involved in decisions surrounding remote learning remember that fair does not mean equal. Your child is entitled to specific services and support that is separate from what other children in their class require; just because our classrooms shifted to our homes does not take away that fact.
All students receiving the same education is not sufficient. Rather, all students during remote learning deserve access to the specific services it has been determined that they require in order to be successful.
Additional Resources for Families: