“We Can’t Do That Due To COVID-19…”

Since March, 2020 how many times in your child’s IEP have you heard “We’re sorry, but due to COVID-19 and the shut down we just can’t…[insert the important service or support in your child’s IEP]?”
We’re guessing you have heard this over and over and you’ve felt really frustrated, but you got through it thinking this would be for only a month or two.
Fast forward a couple of months and now you are faced with Back To School and being told this same thing, in the meantime your child is regressing.
Ready to scream yet?
We know, we get it – and we are here to offer you help and some hope – so take a deep breath.

Here is the hope and the help in one sentence:
The IDEA has not been waived.
The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is in place today, as it was before the pandemic. Your child’s rights as a student with disabilities remain fully intact. None of the mandates under the IDEA have changed and your child’s school and district are held to these same mandates today, as they have been every single day since 1990, and since the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, and quite frankly since 1975 with it’s original inception as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. COVID-19 does not erase your child’s rights to FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education). Distance Learning in its most convenient form does not override your child’s rights under the IDEA and Section 504. So please breathe again, but also prepare yourself because if there was ever a time to fight for your child’s right to an appropriate education, it’s right now.

Why the emphasis on “appropriate”? The answer is an important one: because in the age of COVID-19 and Distance Learning, De minimis (the minimum) has become a common provision from school districts and it’s unacceptable – don’t accept it. Even in a pandemic, your child has the right to the A in their FAPE and it will be up to you to make sure they get it.

Here are the steps you can take to advocate for your child’s FAPE in the age of COVID-19 and Distance Learning:

  • Send an email to your child’s principal and district Special Education Director (copy their case manager if they have one and if you know who it is) requesting an IEP team meeting to discuss your child’s needs during distance learning. Note: in the summer the districts are not required to convene an IEP team meeting – but ask anyway. We have found many districts are open to holding one now in the summer in order to get ahead of the chaos of the first month of school.
  • Request a copy from your child’s school/district of the most recent version of your child’s IEP. You may already have a paper copy laying around, but ask for a copy anyway so you are clear what document they are working from. They should be able to send you a copy as a pdf in an email.
  • Read your child’s IEP carefully and note anything in it that you would like to see adjusted to meet your child’s needs in Distance Learning. Think about what worked and did not work for your child during the shut down in March. Then consider what supports would best meet your child’s needs in the areas that were not working. Example: your child did not stay “in class” for the duration of the session each day. Ask for Behavioral Services to be added to your IEP to develop a token reward system and include consult minutes between you and the behaviorist to support your implementation of this token reward system.
  • Fast forward to the meeting and you are sitting in this meeting and you hear the words ““We’re sorry, but due to COVID-19 and the shut down we just can’t ______________.” In that moment remind the team that the IDEA has not been waived and you are requesting that denial of your request in Prior Written Notice (PWN). A PWN is important because this is where the district must put the ‘no’ in writing AND they must explain why on this document. This is a legally binding document that can be used in Due Process. Always get their refusal to your request in the form of a PWN. Always.
  • Is one of your concerns how in the heck you are going to do Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, etc virtually? Talk about that in the team meeting and ask very specific questions about how your child will make progress on the goals that are associated with each service. If there is an expectation that you will need to help implement a service (and there likely will be), then request consult minutes for each week to be added to your child’s IEP. With these additional consult minutes, you and the service provider are given the opportunity to discuss supporting your child and the implementation of the service. Be sure to ask how data will be taken for each goal and who will be responsible for that data. In fact, take it a step further and request copies of data logs to be provided at regular intervals. Check in with the IEP team member taking the notes to confirm that they are including this request in the meeting notes.
  • If you are in a state that allows, RECORD YOUR MEETINGS. In California where we are located, it is permissible to record a meeting as long notice is given 24 hours in advance in writing. In a Zoom or Google Hangout meeting often the host must do the recording, remind the host (the district) to please record the meeting and send you a file of the recording. As a back up, use a recording app on your phone so that you have a back up audio just in case a technical error is made by the virtual meeting host.
  • Lastly, if you still feel your child’s IEP is not being implemented appropriately consider hiring an advocate to assist you in ensuring your child’s right to FAPE in an era of COVID-19.

As we all know, there is no handbook for education in a pandemic. Parents, educators and administrators are learning as we go; however, a pandemic does not change the school’s obligation under IDEA.
Is it going to be more difficult to implement IEPs in a pandemic? Yep! That doesn’t mean that the IEP is tossed or services lessened. It means that we do what we have always done best in Special Education: we think outside of the box. We problem solve as a team and figure it out together for the benefit of the child. We know how to do this because we have always adapted, we always have modified, we have always found a way – and we will continue to do so because our kids are worth it.

You can do it. We believe in you and more importantly, we are here to help you. You are not alone.