Can Schools Remain Compliant During COVID?
And What You Can Do to Stay on Track
By Carla Wyrsch
As a special educator, I never could have imagined the immense challenges that the 2020-2021 school year would bring. Challenges for students, parents, therapists, and educators are at times crippling. During these unique and ever-changing times, Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams have been working diligently to determine how to remain compliant while continuing to deliver effective, challenging, and meaningful instruction via unconventional methods.
Services most likely will look different than when school was in person and there may even be gaps in service. However, while current services may not be as effective, or what we are used to, parents do not have to settle. Schools still have a legal obligation to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for all students; ensuring students with disabilities receive equally effective alternate access to the curriculum provided to their same grade peers. In addition, schools must ensure that each student with a disability will be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP to the “greatest extent possible.”
To ensure that schools remain compliant with your child’s IEP and that their needs continue to be met, we must utilize a team approach. Now more than ever, flexibility, outreach, and communication will be critical to ensure positive outcomes for our children. So, what can we do during these times?
It is important to emphasize that during “normal times”, federal disability law allows for schools to have flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. COVID is definitely creating a new “normal”, which means that FAPE will look differently while schools operate remotely. Even under these unique circumstances, one thing remains the same; legally, your child’s IEP must be followed. The current situation is new for everyone, and while federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not outline specific methodologies.
So, while things may not be able to look the same as when school was in person, give the new methodologies a chance; most likely the teacher is trying their best to follow the IEP and meet the needs of their students. However, you are the expert on your child and if you feel that new strategies are not working or your child is regressing, document your concerns, offer suggestions, and communicate with your child’s IEP team.
Creatively collaborate with your child’s team.
Collaboration has always been key to a successful IEP team and directly correlates with positive student outcomes. As we all navigate these uncharted waters, parents, educators, and administrators need to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities. This is the season of distance learning, teletherapy, meetings held on digital platforms, etc.
Non-digital strategies that can provide an effective and meaningful exchange for our children. If you have an idea for how to deliver services more effectively, share it with the team and be open to other team members’ ideas. These unprecedented times will call for some out of the box thinking!
Communicate and DOCUMENT!
You know your child best, if something is not working, say something and document it! The implementation of new strategies will take time to yield results, but given time*, if they are still not working it is best to speak up and let your child’s teacher know. They will appreciate the feedback as navigating remote learning and lack of face-to-face interaction, is creating challenges for teachers everywhere, placing them at a major disadvantage when it comes to progress monitoring.
While your child’s teacher will be documenting their progress, it is important for you to document as well, especially if you have seen regression or have any specific concerns. Your documentation can help support the case for compensatory services later down the road. It is also important to document concerns if you feel that your child has not received services during remote learning. In either case, bringing your concerns to the IEP team will initiate the conversation, and together, a decision can be made whether and to what extent compensatory services should be delivered.
*How much time to wait depends on you and your child, but go with your gut.
Give yourself and your child some grace.
As we have heard over and over again, these are unprecedented times. In a normal situation, it is important for caregivers to make self-care a priority; we all know the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” right? Many of us have taken on new roles during remote learning, stretching ourselves thinner than ever before. Your local EFMP office will be a great resource for available services, respite opportunities, or activities that can benefit both you and your child.
In addition to giving ourselves some grace and reprieve, we must acknowledge the stress our children are facing as well. Change is hard for any child, but for some children, a change in learning environment, person delivering services, routine, etc. can cause a major disruption to their learning and overall balance. You may see:
- Inability to attend to learning activities for the entire duration
- Progress may be slower than usual
- Increase in off-task or maladaptive behavior
- Regression can happen even with previous mastered skills
To help ease the transition, ask your child’s teacher for strategies that can be implemented at home, like visual schedules, break timers, etc. The most important thing to remember is to help your child feel safe, loved, and comfortable as they navigate their new normal.
Utilize your local EFMP Office or outside resources for help advocating.
If you are feeling lost or just want extra support as you work through remote learning, reach out to your EFMP case worker for assistance. They can help with school issues such as scheduling or questions regarding your child’s IEP or with other concerns you may have regarding your child’s therapies. The program is also a great resource if you are looking for supplemental services and activities for your family during this time. In addition to contacting the EFMP office, you may also want to reach out directly to your district’s Exceptional Student Services (ESS) office. ESS can provide you with answers to questions specific to what services are available for your student within the district. Finally, following outside organizations (like Partners in PROMISE) can provide information on initiatives being made to support our military children serviced by IEPs and 504 plans.
Finding ease in the new normal
It is clear that remote learning cannot replace or replicate classroom instruction or face-to-face social interactions, however as we move into the second half of the school year and prepare to ring in 2021, I am hopeful. There is hope that we will all have a better understanding of how to make the best of this new situation. That teletherapy, Google Classrooms, and Zoom get togethers will provide opportunities for learning and the social interaction our children are longing for. That collaboration, communication, flexibility, and good old fashioned out of the box thinking by our IEP teams will foster unique learning experiences that yield positive outcomes for our children. And finally, there’s hope that we will return to the classroom safely and sooner than later.