COVID-19 has flipped the education system on its head. In many districts, remote learning has replaced in-person classes. In others, students are eating lunch in silence, strong social distancing measures are being strictly enforced at recess, and sports have been canceled. Although all of these measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the children and the teachers who work tirelessly to educate them, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address some of the unfortunate drawbacks of remote learning.
Students who already experience academic challenges are falling further behind. Worse, many districts are falling short when it comes to providing accommodations, modifications, and services that special education students need to be successful — most of which are required by law — leaving students feeling frustrated and parents, helpless. During remote learning, there are some small, but helpful modifications that can be offered at home by parents and caregivers.
“Many parents don’t utilize breaks, distraction-free environments, or downtime in their child’s schedule. These are accommodations that can be very important to children who get overstimulated or exhausted by the end of the school day,” special needs education attorney Catherine Michael told MadameNoire. “Another one that gets missed frequently is audiobooks for textbooks and for novels that are being read in class. This can help a child with learning disabilities keep up and be able to provide input along with the rest of the class.”
However, there are other supports that only professional educators can provide. “Schools are still required to supply kids with special needs an appropriate program at their level,” says Michael. “If a child cannot participate in online education, schools need to schedule 1:1 Zoom — or other forms of virtual interaction — with students.”
When digital learning is not an option as a result of a student’s disability, the school district may be required to provide an alternative. “In situations where a child is too low cognitively to access a computer at all or has behavior so significant that a parent cannot manage the student, the public school can be responsible for placement at a therapeutic day placement, an ABA Autism Center or a residential placement so that the child can continue to progress educationally,” adds Michael.
Additionally, any IEP-mandated services should continue. “Speech therapy, counseling, social skills training, social work services, and parent training – are all requirements under the law for schools. These services can and should be done online even if schools cannot be in session. Virtual programming of all services in the child’s IEP are still required to be provided,” shared Michael.
Sadly, some districts have not been providing special education students with appropriate supports and as a result, many students have regressed since the pandemic began. In these cases, Michael recommends first reaching out to the district in attempts to rectify the issue.
“The first option is just to document your attempts to reach the school and the needs of your child. Make sure you let the school know that your child is regressing, not receiving appropriate services, and make concrete requests for services,” explained Michael. “Ask to schedule an IEP conference to go over the compensatory services needed for your child as well.”
If the district continues to be unresponsive, parents have a few options. For one, they can file a formal complaint with the state board of education.
“They need to document what their child is not receiving. They can file either a complaint with the State DOE for all of the procedural deficiencies (amounts of speech therapy for instance) or a Due Process Request. The State still must enforce the federal laws associated with the educational funding they receive,” Michael advised.
Another option that parents have is to pay for the services out of pocket and request reimbursement from the district.
“If the school continues to not be responsive or you are in a situation where you believe your child may experience severe regression, parents can actually hire private tutors or place their child in a private placement if they are unable to get appropriate services from the school – and seek reimbursement from the school for this placement,” said Michael. ‘”A parent would need to supply what is commonly termed a ‘ten-day private placement letter’ letting the school know that they do not believe their child is receiving FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) and that in order to prevent even greater regression and to ensure appropriate services they will be seeking and placing their child in a private placement (or hiring a tutor) within 10 days if the situation is not remedied. They also must add that they will be seeking reimbursement for this cost.”