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Resources for Parents of Children With Special Needs During School Closures for Coronavirus

What are schools required to do for students with special needs during a shutdown for coronavirus? Special Education Advocate Lisa Lightner has put together this guide.

At the time of this writing, some governors have declared the entire state to shut down schools for 2-3 weeks. While that may seem extreme, it’s important to remember that this is new to all of us. We’ve never had an epidemic of this magnitude.

And, try to put yourself in their shoes (the decision-makers). It seems they can’t win no matter what decision they make. Some say they shouldn’t shut down, some say they should and some say they should have done it earlier. The old adage “try to please everyone, and you please no one” applies here.

But, if your child has an IEP, and your school is doing distance learning, or they are just going to be closed for an extended amount of time, that might be concerning to you.

So, first, here’s what the US Department of Education says about it, including their list of resources.

Coronavirus: Resources for Schools and Parents


COPAA’s Recommendations

I received this email from COPAA (Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc). Here are their recommendations.

Given growing concerns and uncertainty regarding the COVID-19 outbreak,”the coronavirus", the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) is extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on students with disabilities and their families. It is essential that families make decisions about the safety and welfare of their children in consultation with local schools and communities and that families know the rights and requirements under Federal law during such emergency situations.  COPAA wishes our members and the entire community health and safety in the coming weeks.

Under Federal law, State and local educational agencies are required to provide all children eligible for special education and related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). While the IDEA does grant the Secretary of Education the authority to waive state maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements and requirements to supplement, not supplant, federal funds under certain circumstances, the Secretary does not have the authority to grant waivers to FAPE under IDEA. COPAA has grave concern with the Department of Education’s proposition that students with disabilities are not entitled to services during a school closure. COPAA believes the obligation remains.

If schools close for only a brief time for all students, the school district must maintain continuity of learning by providing educational services to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). For such temporary emergency closures, the provision of homebound services such as instructional telephone calls, homework packets, Internet-based lessons, and other available distance-based learning approaches is not considered a change in placement

If schools close for an extended period of time (generally more than 10 consecutive school days), then school administration officials and the child’s IEP team must determine whether the child is available for instruction and could benefit from homebound services such as instructional telephone calls, homework packets, Internet-based lessons, and other distance-based learning approaches. Even prior to that point, a child’s parent may request an IEP team meeting to discuss the potential need for special education and related services, if the exclusion is likely to be of extended duration. If neither parent can attend an IEP team meeting, the school must use other methods to ensure parent participation, including individual or conference telephone calls, consistent with 34 CFR §§ 300.322(c) and 300.328.

If schools are developing plans for online learning for students, they also need to plan for students with disabilities. If an eligible student with a disability is required to stay home at the advice of their physician, due to vulnerability concerns or due to testing positive for COVID-19, the IEP team should convene to discuss the need for special education and related services, available distance-based learning approaches, or compensatory education in the case of an extended absence.

Due to an increasing number of troubling news reports, on March 4, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights wrote to all Education Leaders to clarify federal protections that exist for students who become victims of “stereotyping, harassment, and bullying directed at persons perceived to be of Chinese American or, more generally, Asian descent…” and that “[states and school districts] must take special care to ensure that all students are able to study and learn in an environment that is healthy, safe, and free from bias or discrimination.”

COPAA is actively monitoring updates from the U.S. Department of Education and will keep you apprised of any new resources.

Lisa Lightner is a West Chester, PA special education advocate who blogs at ADayinOurShoes.com and is a contributor to MetroKids.com’s MomSpeak.

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