During these challenging times, we must all acclimate to the “new normal.” For parents of children who are on an IEP or 504 Plan, there are even more things to juggle and adjust. As summer begins to come to a close, some districts have rolled out their intended plans for educating during COVID; some have not. Nevertheless, parents must figure out how to ensure their children are still getting their FAPE rights.
What should parents look for to ensure proper support services?
Be aware of a sudden change in disability categories. Although not officially proclaimed, there is anecdotal evidence that many districts are actively reassigning a student’s disability category when performing re-evaluations. This can happen even if there have been no notable changes from the previous IEP and the student receives Peterson or Autism Grant funding. Such practices reduce the amount of funding, which impacts services. Always read the ETR carefully; make comparisons to the previous ones to ensure all changes are accurate. If a designation change has been made, question it. If you are not in agreement, address it immediately and request it be documented on the Prior Written Notice. If the district still insists that the change in support services is warranted, consider contacting your advocate or legal representative.
On the flip side, there is an effort being made to provide students with the special education services they need. Obviously, it is impossible to offer the same services that were offered months ago. Nevertheless, the districts are working closely with all involved parties to provide the best support possible given the unique circumstances. Health factors, safety measures and new state and local emergency regulations are all being closely considered.
Are there options?
Yes; one option is for parents to keep their children home for the upcoming semester. If that’s your choice, collaboration with the school district is essential to ensure that special education services and access to FAPE are available. While the school should reach out to the parents to establish what can be done, the parent can easily make the initial contact with the school to ascertain how services will be provided. All members of the student’s support staff – general education teachers, intervention specialists, subject-specific specialists, etc. – should be in contact prior to the academic year to properly plan how the accommodations will be made to address the student’s needs. The parent should be part of the discussion. In turn, the parent needs to make the school aware of what, if any, assistance can be provided at home by a parent so that services can be provided “to the best ability of the school and parent.”
While remote or distance learning has been around for a number of years, for most this is uncharted territory. There will necessarily be a learning curve as educators, parents, administrators and students figure out the best way to engage and teach. For the most part, the reaction and ability to remote teach so many has been a swift and effective undertaking. But that does not mean that it works for everyone? Younger students, those with cognitive, hearing, or visual disabilities, as well as those who do not have access to the necessary technology, are at a disadvantage. As a parent and your child’s most important advocate, you need to make sure the school is aware of what works and what doesn’t for your child. If the school is unresponsive, consider contacting an advocate to help you navigate this “new normal.”
Can my child receive Compensatory Education Services?
Once mandatory school closures have ceased and students return to school, parents should be aware of which “Compensatory Education Services” will be needed. These are additional support services provided to compensate for services lost during the mandated school closures. These compensatory services can be decided by mutual agreement of the parents and the district. However, if that isn’t the case, the parent can contact the Office for Exceptional Children and find the appropriate option for resolving the dispute on services. Each case will be reviewed individually with the goal of a corrective action plan in place for the district to employ.
If you have any questions regarding your child’s support services in your school district’s “new normal,” please reach out to Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (216.736.7220 / firstname.lastname@example.org) and Kristina Supler (216.736.7217 / email@example.com), or Independent Special Education Consultant Vivian Garfunkel (216.696.8700 / firstname.lastname@example.org).
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