How is Special Education Affected by COVID?

With schools shutting down last spring, many students were not able to receive their special education services as required by law. With many schools starting the school year remotely or in a hybrid format, students are frequently losing some of their in-person services. Many students who require significant structure and one-on-one time with educators are in great danger of regressing or worse, not able to learn at all. One of the most common phone calls my office receives is, “What are my rights as a parent during this?”

Federal and state law mandates that schools provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in the least restrictive environment to students with disabilities. Prior to the pandemic, this would mean that if a student could learn effectively only in classes of small sizes, the school could not put him or her in a regular general education class. Conversely, a school cannot put a student in a substantially separate classroom if the student is capable of learning in a general education classroom.

The question becomes what constitutes FAPE with regard to remote learning. Federal law provides that individualized education programs (“IEPs”) must still be followed, which means that, despite the pandemic, districts are still responsible for providing all special education services, even if the school is engaged in remote learning. This means that if a child was receiving one hour per day of specialized instruction before the pandemic, he or she should still receive one hour per day. How these services are delivered varies from district to district.

Many students with IEPs or even 504 plans struggle to learn remotely. This is especially true for students with ADHD and executive functioning deficits. But no matter what disability they have, when the students are unable to find, complete, or submit assignments electronically, they are not effectively accessing the curriculum. If the schools are not then finding ways that enable these students to learn the material and complete the work, then the schools are depriving these students of FAPE.

You do not have to give up your child’s rights just because a school is operating remotely. This is also true of timelines, which must still be adhered to. Districts cannot use the pandemic as a reason to not fulfill your student’s IEP or deliver services. If you are uneasy about a remote learning plan or modified IEP offered by the district, consult us prior to signing.