We as parents of special needs children have many challenges that we are facing during this time of crisis. With many of the schools across the country closed, many parents are now tasked with implementing school at home. But what about parents of special needs children? Yes, we are also in that boat of implementing school at home but our children are also losing valuable access to therapy services. These services are usually protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that puts the student’s IEP in place.
What can I do about losing IEP services?
IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabiliation Act don’t specifically address school closures of this length. However, IDEA mandates that all eligible students still have a right to a free and appropriate public education even in a time of crisis.
If you haven’t yet met with your IEP team, consider reaching out via email and setting up a virtual meeting.
Here are some things to consider:
- If your child’s school district is providing services to general education students, they must also provide educational opportunities to students with disabilities. This is provided by FAPE or the Free and Appropriate Education. Districts must ensure that each student with a disability can be still be provided with the special education and related services that are identified in their IEP.
- If the schools are closed, the district must determine if the child could benefit from online or virtual instruction. Or if there are other ways to facilitate curriculum.
- If it is not already written into the IEP, an IEP team may consider a distance learning contingency plan. This would outline how to access services and identify if any of these services could be provided at the student’s home.
- Under Part B of IDEA, a district may use funds to develop emergency plans, provide information to parents, and circulate health related information.
What can I do about speech therapy, physical therapy, or occupational therapy at home?
This is one of those areas that many of us will struggle with. After all, we didn’t go to school for those things- how can we possibly implement them at home?
My friend let me tell you- long before your child went to school, they already had a very capable teacher in front of them.
Just go look in the mirror.
You are more than capable of delivering services, even if you don’t think they look the same.
You just need to know how to read the IEP and break it down into a language that makes sense.
What can I do about Early Intervention Services?
With Early Intervention services, if the department that runs and provides the services is closed, then services will not be available. If the department is open, services can be accessed by other means via telephone or internet.
Once offices reopen, however, the service coordinator and service providers will determine if the child’s services needs have changed.
School at Home in the Time of COVID-19 for Students with Disabilities
My best piece of advice for parents of special needs children during this time? Contact your school district, your child’s teacher, or your IEP team members. Ask for a copy of your child’s most recent IEP. Make sure that measures are in place for your child to continue to receive anything that is being provided to the general education students.
Guidelines from the US Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) released the following guidance concerning IEP meetings, evaluations, and re-evaluations during the COVID-19 closure: IEP teams are not required to meet in person while schools are closed. If an evaluation of a student with a disability requires a face-to-face assessment or observation, the evaluation would need to be delayed until school reopens. Evaluations and re-evaluations that do not require face-to-face assessments or observations may take place while schools are closed, so long as a student’s parent or legal guardian consents. These same principles apply to similar activities conducted by appropriate personnel for a student with a disability who has a plan developed under Section 504, or who is being evaluated under Section 504. (Source)