The traditional excitement surrounding “back to school” this Fall is looking very different in our current world climate. While many are taking part in virtual and hybrid learning schedules, the pandemic pod is a trend that has taken shape this academic year, as many are seeking out options that allow for more hands-on learning in a socially distanced way. In many cities across the country, parent networks are hiring credentialed tutors to host class sessions in small groups at one another’s homes while sharing the cost of supplies.
As schools slowly re-open in phases, parents are facing several tough decisions regarding how to best meet the educational needs of their children. Unfortunately, the special needs of a child with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) can often not be met in these seemingly “one size fits all education options.” As a parent or advocate for a special needs child, you may find yourself frustrated, wondering how your child’s academic and therapeutic needs can be met in an education system struggling to adapt in a Covid-19 world.
If the special needs of the child are not being met, then what can be done to assist them? As a mother of an adult son with special needs, and an attorney who focuses my practice in special education law, I have lived my life advocating for the individual needs of my family and clients alike, and have some advice to share.
- Keep a log.
If a parent or educational rights holder of a child with an IEP has not yet started this practice during COVID-19, here are some suggestions:
- Catalog the time that the child received and/or attended to any service provided by the district.
- Keep track of the activity, i.e. reading or math skills tutoring. Who delivered the service? How much time was spent one-on-one with the child? Was it comparable to what the child would have received had he or she been present with the tutor on campus?
- Schedule a weekly or biweekly meeting with your child’s IEP case manager by Zoom or Facetime to go over what has been accomplished in the log. Send copies of the log sheets to the case manager for their review and record-keeping. This may just improve accountability on the part of the school district.
Sample log sheets are available here: https://kids-alliance.org/resources/covid19-education/
- Obtain compensatory services.
Certain in-person services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy simply stopped last Spring when schools closed, affecting nearly 7 million children in the United States. Compensatory services may be necessary when there is continuous or repeated loss of service for a long period of time. This may call for more formal action to address how the services owed to the child may be compensated.
Keeping the logbook to record services received is essential when making a claim or filing a formal due process complaint for compensatory services.
Consider taking these steps first:
- Seek guidance first from the school district on whether they agree with the loss of services.
- Determine how the services must be delivered, i.e. in a small group, individually, as a “consult-only” by the therapist, and how often services are to be delivered.
- Convene an IEP meeting to directly address the loss of services and how they can be compensated appropriately. For example, services could be made up by doubling up services, i.e. speech therapy three times a week for one hour a day, vs. one hour of speech therapy per week.
- Request an IEP meeting to address amending the IEP with a distance learning plan.
Amending the IEP with an appropriate distance learning plan is an available option. LEA’s (Local Education Agencies), such as school districts may propose an IEP amendment without a team meeting. These are meant to address the unique circumstances that relate to alternative service delivery that may be provided to the student during the current pandemic situation. According to the Education Code §56343, subdivision (c), parents may also request an IEP meeting or propose an IEP amendment.
- Be collaborative.
It is important for parents and members of the IEP team (case manager, teachers, therapists, school psychologists, district administration) to closely collaborate with one another to address the needs of the child with an IEP in this evolving and ever-changing learning environment.
A recent article addresses the challenges faced by school districts in delivering special education services, and discusses various support measures for distance learning, and for providing individualized services to students: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-020-00476-1
1. https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/specialedcovid19guidance.asp (California-specific)
Molly Shirer is Counsel at Parlatore Law Group and focuses her practice on special needs estate planning in the areas of guardianships, conservatorships, special needs trusts planning, special education law and Social Security/Disability claims. The mother of a developmentally disabled young adult, Ms. Shirer has spent her life advocating for his educational and legal needs and feels passionately about focusing her practice on serving this community. Special needs children and young adults require careful planning and advocacy at every stage of their lives.