FAPE during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Do you know the adage from Mark Twain, "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes?" Well, the same thing seems to hold true with alternative distance learning and special education during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Last week, the US Department of Education and Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education were advising school districts they were not required to provide direct special education; weren’t going to be responsible for missed services as a result of the COVID-19 school closures; and Team meetings could be held virtually, at school district’s discretion. Well, over the weekend, we received word from the Office of Civil Rights within the US Department of Education that school districts still must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education, although the delivery of such services might look considerably different. The DOE endorses the use of “distance instruction, teletherapy and tele-intervention and “low-tech strategies” like paper versions of classwork, or projects, etc., to students who require special education services. Some services that require “hands-on” guidance, like OT and PT services, for example, may not be possible in this time of self-isolation. However, other services, such as speech and academic instruction, may absolutely be provided.
As for compensatory services, the DOE is recommending that the determination be made on an individual basis, once school reopens. In the meantime, we suggest you take steps to document your children’s current level of performance. Perhaps by taking a video of your child reading a grade level book or completing a math worksheet. If it’s easier, write a quick narrative of what you’re seeing as your son or daughter completes work, even getting along with their siblings. Consider taking a video of your child’s behavior, are you seeing any previous behaviors that are coming back, such as nail biting, self-injurious behaviors, self-stimming? If you’re in contact with your child’s special education teacher, ask them to write a quick narrative of what they were working on before school was abruptly adjourned. (We’ve heard some districts will be completing progress reports, however this is not (yet) required.)
We will continue to monitor both the US DOE and Massachusetts DESE for further developments on steps they will be taking to bridge this gap in learning. Stay tuned for updates.