Podcast Resources / 03.20.2020

Real Talk Podcast: Impact of Coronavirus on Students With Disabilities

In this episode of Real Talk, Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler discuss the impact of schools transitioning to online learning, particularly what it means for students with disabilities who are being serviced through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan. Listen or view the transcript below.

Transcript

Kristina Supler:

Welcome back to real talk with Susan and Kristina. We hope that everyone’s hanging in there during this really challenging time in our world.

Susan Stone:

These are trying times for families. Everybody’s under a lot of pressure. I know we’re feeling the pressure every day.

Kristina Supler:

Absolutely.

Susan Stone:

We’re worried about how we can service our clients and what’s going to happen to all of the families that we represent. These are a time of great uncertainty.

Kristina Supler:

We’re really spending a lot of time recently thinking about what is the impact of schools transitioning to online learning, social distancing. What does this mean for children?

Susan Stone:

And in particular, what does this mean for students with disabilities who are being serviced through an individualized education plan or a 504 plan? We’re going to address what we think will be unfolding, if not now, in the next couple weeks.

Kristina Supler:

However, no one really knows what exactly is going to happen and how students are going to fare with these lengthy school transitions to distance learning.

Susan Stone:

We don’t know that every school is going to be distance learning. We should say, some schools might just be shutting down and figuring it out later. We’re predicting that everybody’s going to require all students to finish through online education.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right, because on March 12th, the CDC issued some interim guidance for both public and private schools to help plan for and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Susan Stone:

In response, most schools are on an extended spring break. Those schools have indicated to families that they’re hoping that students can return to school.

Susan Stone:

Other schools, especially in the higher education setting and in some private high schools, both in the middle school and the high school area, have indicated that they will complete the academic year online.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right, Susan. So generally, the prediction is that students will finish out the year online. That has in turn created a bunch of questions particularly for students with disabilities. The Department of Education recently published a Q&A to help educators, teachers, parents, lawyers work through these issues.

Susan Stone:

We think that this is going to raise more questions than answers. Kristina and I have spent a lot of time studying these Q&As, and we’re going to try to flesh them out for you in this podcast.

 

Are schools still required to meet IEP’s and 504 plans during quarantine?

 

Kristina Supler:

So Susan and I are in Ohio, so we’re going to speak about Ohio in particular. But regardless, schools that continue to provide curriculum to their students, they have to make every effort to continue to provide services to students on IEPs or receiving special education services.

Kristina Supler:

I think it’s so important to emphasize that parents have to be really proactive in having conversations with the IEP teams to talk about not only what services are needed, but also how the services are going to be delivered.

Susan Stone:

It’s time to get creative. Technology is going to be more important than ever. Use of simple phone calls to deliver services might be necessary. Or in some cases, there might have to be a request for home delivery of instruction or special education-related services.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right, and I think now is the time where we can really take advantage of technology and what it has to offer. But certainly in some instances, depending upon the students’ needs, that technology, that distance learning is not going to be a sufficient substitute for in-person learning.

Susan Stone:

I could predict situations, such as students who receive physical therapy, occupational therapy, where you really cannot substitute that one-on-one personal delivery of services.

 

What about students who contract coronavirus and can’t keep up with school?

 

Kristina Supler:

Also, we have to think about what about the students, God forbid, who might actually get coronavirus or some other very serious illness. What about students who sadly might become so ill that they can’t return to school? In those instances, when the absences are greater than 10 days, this is going to be a change of placement.

Susan Stone:

If it’s a change of placement, the IEP team is going to have to meet and analyze what modifications to the goal objectives can be accomplished given the restraints and the illnesses.

Susan Stone:

We must keep in mind that schools must be diligent in guarding that students have the right to be placed in a least restrictive environment. But what that environment looks like, again, is going to be very interesting. Many families are going to be homebound. I wonder if that’s going to be considered the least restrictive environment for a student who needs social skills training.

Kristina Supler:

Yeah, I’m really worried about the students who need socialization, and how do you handle something like that with this social distancing that we’re all experiencing?

Susan Stone:

Same thing, what about students with severe behavioral needs? They need the behavioral supports. Perhaps those districts that are closed might have to consider sending students to private placements.

Kristina Supler:

I mean, suffice it to say we are anticipating, Susan and I both, that unfortunately we likely are going to see regression in many special education students.

Susan Stone:

Well, and I agree with you, I think we’re going to see a lot of regression for those students who are not getting that continuity of services. We know some students when they have a substitute teacher, their behaviors decline and their learning declines.

Susan Stone:

This is a complete disruption for every type of student, much less a student with disabilities. It’s a good time to think about summer and ESY [Extended School Year] planning.

Kristina Supler:

That’s right. I mean, there’s so much going on already, you hate to add to the issues that educators and parents are working through. But I think it’s just important not to lose sight of the fact that most IEPs that even contemplates ESY,-

Susan Stone:

Extended school year services.

 

What should parents of special education students do to ensure their children receive a quality education during this time?

 

Kristina Supler:

… this is the time of year where it’s really critical that parents start those conversations. So when you’re talking to teachers and interventionists and other support persons in your child’s education, think about not only how you’re handling the disruption that we’re currently experiencing, but longterm over the summer if there is regression. Regardless of COVID-19’s sequestration, is ESY something that you think is really imperative for your child?

Susan Stone:

If your IEP team will not meet with you in person, which right now it seems most likely, demand a telephone conference. There are free conference call services that school districts can access. Right now, we just have to, again, get creative and think about our children and try to put our families first. Obviously, health comes first; but at the same time, our students have a constitutional right to a free, appropriate public education.

Kristina Supler:

So Susan and I thank you for joining us. We are really working hard to monitor the situation, stay on top of the law, and provide client alerts as soon as possible. Thank you again for joining us. Stay healthy and stay tuned.

 

 

 

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