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Plans for Re-Opening School - Special Education

Yesterday, Russell Johnston, Senior Associate Commissioner for Special Education, released Guidance on Fall 2020 Special Education Services pertaining to meeting the needs of special education students this fall. With each update issued by DESE, we get a better idea of what school may look like in the fall. As for special education students, we’re happy to report that DESE, once again, emphasized a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as an ongoing obligation.

As districts are planning for the three possible scenarios of instruction (in person, remote and hybrid) they must also adhere to the IDEA requirement of providing services within the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) consistent with each student’s IEP. Programming might look a little different. For example, a speech pathologist may provide their services remotely, instead of coming into a classroom or pulling your child to their office.

We were also happy to learn that DESE has emphasized that family engagement and input are critical to the success of school reopening. As a parent, your observation and feedback from this spring’s remote learning experience is needed to ensure your child’s academic, emotional and social needs are addressed.

In-Person Instruction: Students with disabilities, particularly preschool students and students with significant needs, should be prioritized for receiving in-person instruction. Even if schools use a hybrid or remote model for instruction, every effort is supposed to be made to maintain in-person instruction. In short, these students should receive as many services as possible in-person, whether full-time, part-time or in a student’s home or community-based setting (if feasible).

For students with mild to moderate special needs DESE is recommending districts maximize in-person learning by qualified professionals in the least restrictive environment

Remote Learning: DESE fully expects that remote learning plans should be more robust than what was provided this spring. That means schools must be prepared to provide instruction aligned with the service delivery grid. A regular and consistent schedule of classes, services and therapies are also being required.

Hybrid Learning: Again, DESE is stressing that school districts should prioritize the needs of students with disabilities and maximize in-person learning for these students.

IEP Requirements:

· Annual Reviews – districts are still required to hold annual review meetings in accordance with a student’s IEP and write an IEP using a lens that the child will be attending school in-person

· Evaluations – When school buildings were closed, the timeline for evaluations had to be adjusted and we anticipate a significant backlog this fall. Through this newest advisory, DESE has instructed schools will need to develop a plan to address the backlog while at the same time maintaining timelines for new referrals and those students requiring 3 year re-evaluations

· Transition Services – community-based, in-person experiences are typically a significant focus of post-high school programs. When COVID forced closures, this impacted these programs. Through the guidance issued yesterday, DESE is stressing the importance of adjusting programming and developing plans for students to access as much transition programming as possible and in-person transition services resume as soon as it is safe to do so.

There’s still a lot of work each district will need to undertake and we’re sure this isn’t the last piece of guidance that will be issued by DESE. We will continue to keep you apprised of further developments. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help!

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