Nearly everything has changed since March 2020 – how we work, how we learn, and even how (and what) we celebrate. One thing that has stayed the same is a school’s obligation to create and implement an IEP for all students in need of specialized instruction. At least once a year, the IEP team needs to meet to draft a new IEP for the student. While the Department of Education has been clear that schools are not allowed to stop providing specialized instruction, many schools have been reluctant and slow to implement appropriate special education programming during COVID. Public schools and charter schools have at all times had an obligation to provide a free, appropriate public education to a child who is or should be eligible for special education, and that obligation existed throughout the past year and exists now.
Hybrid and Virtual Learning Aren’t Going Away Just Yet
Recently, many schools have been drafting IEPs as though everyone will be back to in-person instruction full-time any day now. This assumption is not reality. Schools will likely be using hybrid models, at best, for several more months, and may be closed completely to in-person instruction. When drafting IEPs, the school needs to consider all environments in which the student will be learning over the course of the year, including distance learning. Hybrid and virtual learning programs provide unique challenges and create situations that need to be addressed specifically in current IEPs.
One major area that is often neglected is how the school will provide consistency in instruction, therapies, and data collection while implementing a hybrid model of instruction. Particularly for students who require structure and routine, this area must be addressed both during the IEP meeting and in the written IEP. Goals and progress monitoring methods may also need to be reconsidered to account for the need to monitor progress virtually. Not all behavior plans, instructional methods, goals, and social skills training will translate well to the home environment. The school needs to include appropriate, research-based alternatives for your student, as well as a way to implement them consistently.
Schools Must Use Appropriate, Research-Based Alternatives
This requirement is not new, as the pandemic has been going on for a year; the school needed to be providing appropriate, research-based special education programming all year, and should have included these considerations in any IEPs written during school closures. There has been virtual learning in some circumstances for years; research-based practices exist and need to be considered by the IEP team and implemented by the school regardless of the model of programming currently being used.
When the school fails to take these circumstances into account when drafting your student’s IEP and fails to discuss how it will provide appropriate, research-based programming in applicable scenarios, a parent can take legal action to correct this failure and compensate them and their student for the lost education.
If your child’s school is failing to create and implement an appropriate educational program for your child, please contact a special education rights attorney at Students’ Rights Group at Timoney Knox for assistance.