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Are Public School Districts Abdicating Responsibility for Special Needs Students?

As our country adjusts to a new way of life, public school districts across the nation must prepare to do their part as well. Now more than ever, it is important that individuals with special learning needs have access to appropriate educational materials and up to date plans to minimize academic, physical, emotional, and social regression. Attorneys, trustees, and financial advisors are vital resources to families as they face these and other challenges. As trusted advisors, they should proactively help parents address these issues with their local school districts, with the help of an education consultant if necessary.

During the ongoing spread of Covid-19, the federal government is making recommendations and leaving the decision process of educational programs to each individual state’s Department of Education for mandates and rulings during this time of crisis. It is imperative that families with children receiving special education services know what their home state’s current requirements are for the implementation of educational programs during this uncertain time.

If a state is offering distant learning to general education students through public school systems, then special education students absolutely must receive the same opportunities through their IEP team to access equal learning. It is not acceptable for any school system in our country to state that they are unable to or refuse to provide special education services to an individual student based on abilities. Although it may look different, services can still be provided through the development of interim individualized flexible learning plans that are based on the student’s IEP. It is crucial to note that these interim plans will not take the place of the formal IEP for the students. Instead, they will simply be supports to the original plan during the time of crisis. The IEP will go into full effect once students are able to safely return to onsite learning premises in the public learning environment.

In the interim, families will need to remain in close contact with the student’s IEP case manager to identify exactly how the IEP team is making revisions to best meet the learning needs for their individual child. Meetings can be held telephonically with team members to answer questions and prepare for the weeks or months of programming that lie ahead. Parents are critical members of the IEP team and have the right to request a meeting with the IEP case manager or full team throughout the distant learning process. During this period of uncertainty, it is imperative that parents have consistent, open, and productive communication with their child’s IEP team. A student that qualifies for special education services has certain rights as dictated in The Procedural Safeguards that are provided to the family annually. These safeguards are undeniably still in effect at this time.

Although interim plans may not be able to address individualized goals and objectives directly as stated in the IEP document, IEP teams should be offering options for multiple weekly virtual meetings via video, web, or telephonic conferencing platforms to address areas of need and skill sets highlighted on the IEPs. Therapy, including speech/language, PT, OT, Vision, and psychological services, should also be addressed through scheduled virtual platforms. If therapeutic direct services are not able to be provided virtually due to the nature of the service (as with OT or PT), conferences should be scheduled weekly to provide consultative services to families and students with activities provided for home practice.

In situations where virtual learning is not accessible, school systems should be working with families to identify the problems and collaborate to develop solutions, such as paper and pencil lessons and therapeutic home exercises for parents to do with their child. When IEP case managers, teachers, or therapists identify low participation and communication from students, it is best practice to reach out to the family to troubleshoot the obstacles collectively.

In summary, families with students receiving special education services should follow these guidelines to ensure equal access to learning and minimize regression of skills:

  • Research and review the guidelines set forth from the home state’s Department of Education
  • Research and review the home district’s implementation of the Department of Education’s guidelines
  • Consult with the student’s IEP case manager to discuss a plan for the implementation of services
  • Identify materials needed for implementation of distant learning plan
    • Arrange for safe pick-up of supplies (including assistive technology, Chromebooks, and paper assignments) from the home district in a manner that is in accordance with CDC guidelines
    • Download or request assistance to download appropriate software
    • Access community based internet, if not readily available in the home at this time
  • Schedule weekly virtual/telephonic meetings with IEP team for delivery of services and consultation – this includes time with appropriate therapies if they are part of the team
  • Prepare daily scheduled time in the home setting that will be dedicated to distant learning

About National Care Advisors Education Consulting and Advocacy Services:

National Care Advisors provides a broad range of education consulting and advocacy services, including IEP review, public/private school advocacy, school transition support and post-secondary education planning. Our masters trained special education consultant works collaboratively with our nurse case manager to assist special needs individuals and their family, financial, and legal support team navigate the education system to ensure all children, regardless of ability, are able to achieve academically.  Want to learn more about our services and team? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your loved one or client reach their potential.