A key element of special education is that students with disabilities are entitled to either an individualized education program (IEP) or modifications in school programming needed to meet their needs in a 504 plan. Because of COVID-19, Vermont schools are making plans for all students that will change how schools operate.
For students with disabilities, IEP and 504 teams still need to make individualized decisions for each student about what the school needs to provide so the student can access their education.
Access to options offered to all students
A school must give students with disabilities the same choice it gives other students between in-person, remote, or hybrid learning. A school cannot make assumptions about a student to justify limiting the choices of that student. Students with disabilities may need extra help to follow COVID-19 guidelines because of their disabilities. They cannot be kept out of in-person learning because their disability means they need more help.
Modifying policies about in-person learning days
Some students with disabilities may need more in-person instruction than is being offered to all students. If access to additional in-person instruction is needed for the student to make progress the IEP or 504 plan needs to be modified to include more in-person instruction.
Modified schedules are not new. Extended and shortened school days have been used for many years to give students with disabilities access to education in a manner that allows the student the opportunity to make progress.
A modified schedule might mean access to the school building three or four days a week instead of the one or two days offered other students. Or, if remote learning on a screen is not effective in helping a student make progress, it might mean having an instructor come to the home or other location to provide in-person instruction.
For students with disabilities, decisions need to be individual to the student, not based on blanket school policies.
Access to IEP services
Schools cannot cut or change the amount of IEP or 504 services being provided due to changes in schedules and the number of in-person learning days. Services still need to be provided to meet the individualized education needs of the student.
Most students will be in school buildings less (or not at all) due to COVID-19. This does not automatically mean that IEP and 504 plan services should be reduced. Some students will need more special education support to manage the new COVID-19 learning environment and still make progress.,
Parents should not agree to proposed reductions in service that are based on factors other than the student’s needs (such as school schedules or staffing limitations). Any proposed reduction in service must be based on a change in the student’s needs.
While the level of services should not be reduced based on factors other than a change in the student’s needs, those services may need to be provided in a different format (remote versus in-person), or on a different schedule (twice a week for one hour, instead of four times a week for 30 minutes).
Access to accommodations
Schools still need to give students with disabilities reasonable accommodations needed to access learning. However, what is a “reasonable” accommodation when considering COVID-19 may be different than in the past.
Students with disabilities who are learning remotely, in a hybrid model, or in-person with new COVID-19 protocols in place, may need different accommodations to access their general education and special education and related services.
Parents should not agree to take away accommodations the student has had in the past without planning for how to address the need that the accommodation was meant to help. Accommodations still need to be individualized for the needs of the student.
Districts are strained and modifying policies to provide individualized education programs may feel harder than usual. Parents can still use dispute resolution options. You can request Mediation, file an Administrative Complaint, or file for Due Process.