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Tips for Parents With Special Needs Children and IEPs During The COVID-19 Crisis

If you're feeling lost with what to expect for your child's education, read this.

Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock

I am sure during these uncertain times there are many parents feeling lost with what to expect for their special needs children and their education.  I want to share some tips that may be helpful as the parent navigates through “homeschooling” a special needs child. The Individuals with Disabilities Education ACT (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the American Disabilities Act mandate that schools provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and protect civil rights.  Whether the school is collaborating with the parents or not the information below should be followed and utilized at IEP meetings that are being held via conference calls, virtually or in person (when school reopens).

  1. Parents have now become the educators at home with their children and will be responsible to monitor progress or lack thereof.
  2. Most important:  Parents should state during an IEP meeting that they are not waiving any rights to challenge the educational services that is offered during school closure and the  pandemic. Ask the IEP team to note parent concerns in a Prior Written Notice (PWN). Do not sign a blanket PWN document.   If parents receive the PWN after the IEP and their concerns are not stated in the PWN the parents should write a letter with their concerns.  Be sure to send the letter via email with return receipt/read and certified mail with tracking and signature, if possible.  If parents are asked to sign the PWN they should read it carefully and make sure all their concerns are stated in it. If not, they should note their concerns and/or discrepancies in the PWN.  In addition, parents should also state in the PWN that when the school opens, they expect the services previously provided in their child’s IEP to resume in addition to any new services offered that the parents agree with. 
  3. Parents need to understand the IEP and PWN are legal documents. If parents agree to the PWN  and they do not read it carefully nor do they understand it appropriately they may be changing the last signed IEP to reflect what the school stipulated in the PWN due to the pandemic. PWN may be used as a tool to amend the existing IEP for purposes of the COVID-19 crisis and their ability or inability to provide FAPE.  Prior to signing the PWN parents should be very comfortable with what it states. PWN may cause some services not to be implemented when school opens and/or not hold the school accountable for not providing the service during COVID-19. The parents will have to hold an IEP and prove that the original services stipulated in the last signed IEP are still valid.  My personal experience is that it is easy to take away a service in an IEP, but extremely difficult to write it back into the IEP –  PARENTS BEWARE. 
  4. If parents do not know how to monitor progress they should ask the school to help them come up with a plan since the school is mandated to monitor “measurable progress” in the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).  Schools are also responsible for parent training in various areas.
  5. School Districts are still obligated to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for all special needs children with an IEP.
  6. Students with special needs should not be discriminated against because of the COVID-19 crisis.
  7. Students with special needs may regress if not afforded the appropriate services required in their IEPs.
  8. Many states, but not all, are holding virtual IEP team meetings and are providing services and instruction via distance learning.
  9. Students who have had a recent completed evaluation of any kind –  the parents should have the school; hold a 30-day Emergency IEP, review the evaluations, address parent  concerns, and update goals and objectives accordingly.
  10. It is important for schools and parents to collaborate during these uncertain times in the best interest of the child, and in an effort to provide FAPE and protect the child’s Civil Rights.
  11. Parents should record all IEP meetings by providing the school with a 24-hour notice prior to the IEP meeting in writing.  For example; I intend to record my child’s IEP on 4/25/20.  Consider this my 24-hour prior written notice.  This notice may be submitted to the school anytime up to the 24-hour timeline.
  12. It is important for parents to come up with present levels of performance where their child is now; academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally while at home. 
  13. Review the child’s IEP and see what the present levels of performance state in it.
  14. Use the baselines in the IEP to create a current present levels of performance contingent on what the IEP states, and  what the parent actually sees with the child at home since COVID-19 came into effect and schools closed.
  15. Once the parent establishes a baseline by doing the above, they can now work with the child at home simultaneously with the school.
  16. Review the goals and objectives stated in the IEP and ensure the school is working on those goals and objectives with the child. 
  17. Keep track of the various therapies and/or services stated in the IEP that are to be implemented by a teacher and/or therapist. This information can be found on the page in the IEP that states “Offer of FAPE”
  18. Get a book and make four columns: the date, time, name of teacher/therapist and finally the fourth column for observation.  In this book be sure to log all observations. With the same respect, parents should write any observation they see with their child of what happened  on that day – this will be an ongoing log in which the parent is establishing a history of the events that are taken place during the COVID-19 crisis and school closure.
  19. Included with the parent’s observation notes should be whether or not the child received special education services, virtually, by the teacher/therapist as stipulated in the IEP (Offer of FAPE).
  20. If services were provided describe those services in the parent’s observation and whether or not they commensurate with the child’s IEP.
  21. If services were not provided as stipulated in the child’s IEP write that in the observation column and the date services were not provided.
  22. As the parent works with the child the parent should compare what the IEP goals state and if the child is able to accomplish some of the goal’s expectation with the current schoolwork at home.
  23. The parent should document everything that is noticed with the child; If the child can do the work the way the goals and objectives dictate then the parent should write that in the observation section. If the child cannot do the work the way the goals and objectives dictate, then the parent should write what the child struggled with in the observation section.
  24. The IEP goals will be the template to use with the child while doing schoolwork at home and monitoring what the teacher is working  on with the child, virtually.
  25. If the parent feels the IEP goals have been met and the goals are too easy the parent should make that clear to the teacher and request an Emergency 30-Day IEP meeting to review current goals, objectives and parent concerns. With the same respect if the parent feels the goals have not been met the parent should make that clear to the teacher and request a 30-Day IEP meeting to review the goals and make appropriate adjustments accordingly. These requests should be in writing.
  26. Another suggestion would be the observations should commence at the beginning of the COVID-19 situation on March 13, 2020 and continue to log in the notebook until school opens up again. Obviously, we are past March 13, 2020; the parent should do the best they can.
  27. The above can be done for all areas that the parent is working on with the child; socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically.
  28. Some examples of online services may be; extension of time for assignments, videos with captioning, sign language, reading materials, teletherapy, teleinterventions, online options for data tracking and documentation as well as speech and language services through video conferencing.  Parents should ask the school about various digital/online services and therapies available.
  29. For blind students’ teachers should consider reading the document to the student over the phone and provide audio recordings of the assignment.
  30. The best advice I can give a parent is to document, document, document.  When the school opens the parent would have established a log with vital information in it. This information may be used to request Extended School Year (ESY) and Compensatory Services in the areas that the child may have regressed during the COVID-19 crisis.  Compensatory Services will be determined based on whether or not the school was able to provide FAPE in accordance to the IEP during the COVID-19 crisis. 

In addition, schools may not be able to provide various services noted in the IEP and regression may occur. For those services that may be difficult to provide students during COVID-19 crisis would be the ones that may trigger the need for Compensatory Services. 

A special thanks to all first responders including, but not limited to; law enforcement, fire departments, doctors, nurses, delivery drivers, people  working in the food industry, cashiers, volunteers, journalists, nonprofits and for profits reaching out to make a difference and save lives – every life matters……

In Continuous Prayer for the World……. Please stay safe during these very difficult times…

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