A Look At School Obligations During COVID 19 School Closures and Creative Solutions For Providing Related Services
COVID-19 has thrown society into uncertainty and new challenges. Most parents are desperately monitoring the news to find out when schools might be open again. As long as schools stay closed, parents are faced with trying to do their jobs, home school their children, and find a way to ensure their children receive services they need and generally receive through schools.
Students are anxiously debating which rumors are most likely to come to fruition. Teachers in most districts are recording lectures from home, hosting online classes, and creating assignments that can be done from home. Administrators are facing questions about curriculum and school operations. One such question is how to provide students with the related services designated in their IEP while schools are closed.
Education Moves Home
If schools are providing educational programming during the closure, they are required to also provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students with IEPs, including all related services.
As cyber schools regularly demonstrate, today’s technology allows teachers to create and deliver traditional classes to mainstream students. Teachers also have the ability to incorporate many accommodations, such as additional time, larger font size, and assignments being read aloud, into remote classes and assignments. Technology allows for new and unique approaches to the academic curriculum.
However, in the pursuit of a FAPE, many students require accommodations and services that teachers and schools cannot easily convert or incorporate into remote lessons. Most obviously, occupational and physical therapies often require more physical interaction than can occur using a videoconference. Additionally, it may be challenging to find providers who can or will provide these services in students’ homes during the Stay-at-Home Orders currently imposed across the country.
COVID-19 Requires Novel Solutions to Service Snags
Some schools are likely to take these challenges and use them as a reason to discontinue all related services during the closures. Parents should accept that decision; instead, all possibilities for obtaining some services for their child must be explored. Numerous programs/web sites/applications provide free videoconferencing services that can be used for speech or language therapy (and instructional support). Counseling can also be provided via videoconferences or telephone calls. Assistive technology can be provided for specific issues students face.
Depending on the student’s issues, even some occupational and physical therapy and orientation and mobility services could be provided by videoconference or providers could record themselves performing exercises and send the video file to students to do at home. Parents should make sure the schools considered these options, and any others the providers can think of that might enable the student to receive some related services despite the current pandemic situation, and implement what is viable.
Schools cannot simply refuse to provide related services to students with disabilities (if they do, there will be an educational consequence to the student and a legal consequence to the school).
If a school has refused or been unable to provide related services to a student, it still has an obligation to make up for those services through an appropriate amount and type of compensatory education once schools have reopened and this period of social distancing has ended. The school is required to determine, on an individual basis, what compensatory services each student will need to make up for missing their required services during this time.
Parents will benefit from keeping track of their child’s progress or regression on targeted skills and behavior to establish their need for compensatory education.
If your child’s school is denying needed services or compensatory education, consider contacting a special education rights attorney in our Students’ Rights Group at Timoney Knox for assistance. (April 9, 2020, Kathleen M. Vermilion, Esquire)