Coronavirus - Education - Frequently Asked Questions
Coronavirus - Education - Frequently Asked Questions
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education: Frequently Asked Questions
October 4, 2021
If my child with a disability experienced learning loss because of COVID-19 school closures, what are schools supposed to do?
In September 2021, the California Department of Education (CDE) issued “Conducting Individualized Determinations of Need”. This is a guidance document for schools and families. It helps them identify factors to consider when determining the impacts of COVID-19 school disruptions to student learning and services.
COVID-19 school disruptions may have increased learning gaps for students with disabilities. These students may need more services and supports to address these gaps.
This guidance document says that IEP teams must:
- determine services and supports for students with disabilities on a student-by-student basis;
- review student data to determine learning recovery services and supports. This can include student data before COVID to understand the student’s past skills and performance. The IEP team can compare this data with the student’s current skills and performance. The guidance also lists other types of data that IEP teams can use. Other data can include data from families; and
- gather new data when a student returns to school to check to see if the student lost skills or has changes in academic performance or behavior.
This guidance provides a list of 13 guiding questions to help IEP teams discuss students’ data and how to accelerate learning for students’ with disabilities. These questions will help IEP teams:
- Create new baselines for IEP goals;
- Consider appropriate accommodations and modifications; and
- Help determine the frequency, location, and duration of services.
If your child has lost skills due to COVID-19 school disruptions, make sure that your child’s IEP team is talking about the 13 guiding questions at your child’s next IEP meeting. You can bring a copy of the 13 guiding questions from the guidance document with you and ask the IEP team to review the questions together.
Does my child still have a right to special education during the COVID-19 crisis?
Yes. Your local school district is still required to provide special education; however, your child may not receive the services in their IEP in the same way they did before the COVID-19 crisis. Under Senate Bill 98, your child’s school should work with you to create a Emergency Plan, which should describe how your child’s IEP will be implemented for school closures of ten or more days. You have the right to work with the IEP team to craft this plan.
Schools are still required to follow federal and state special education laws. For more information on special education rights and procedures, please check out our Special Education Rights and Responsibilities manual.
I’m concerned about my child’s progress after being on distance learning last year. What can I do?
If you are concerned about your child’s progress in their education or on their IEP goals, you have the right to request an IEP meeting to discuss your concerns. The school district must provide a meeting within 30 days. You can use this sample letter to request an IEP meeting.
I’ve had an IEP meeting but I don’t agree with the entire IEP that’s being offered to my child. What can I do?
You have the right to provide “limited consent” to your child’s IEP. You can agree to implement the IEP offered by the school district, without giving up your child’s right to a free appropriate education, and without waiving your child’s right to compensatory services.
I have heard school assessments are delayed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Do school district still have to do assessments?
Yes. Schools are still required to comply with the timelines in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and conduct assessments. The California Department of Education has also provided guidance about assessments. CDE has stated that school districts must continue to conduct assessments and evaluations for students who have or may have disabilities. CDE has stated that in-person assessments are permissible if they are conducted in a manner consistent with public health guidance. You can use this sample letter to your school district to request an assessment.
If your child did not receive a free appropriate public education because of assessment delays, your child may be eligible for compensatory education. You can use this form letter in order to request that special education assessment start immediately, and to preserve your child’s right to compensatory education.
Does my child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) have to include an emergency plan?
Yes, your child’s IEP must include an emergency plan, but that emergency plan will only be used if there are “emergency conditions” where your child’s school is closed for more than 10 school days. California Education Code § 56345(a)(9). Emergency conditions include epidemics, such as COVID-19, as well as floods, fires, and earthquakes. School districts must make sure your child’s IEP includes an emergency plan by your child’s next annual IEP date. The emergency plan must describe how your child’s IEP will be provided if student cannot attend school for more than 10 school days because of emergency conditions. The emergency plan must explain how special education instruction, related services, supplemental aids and services, transition services, and extended school year will be provided.
You can request an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting to discuss what accommodations, modifications, or services should be put in place as part of an emergency plan. You have the right to provide input into what goes into your child’s emergency plan. Because this plan is part of your child’s IEP, you must provide consent for the plan to be implemented. You also have the right to call an IEP meeting if you feel that the plan should be modified.
My child’s school refused to provide or provided limited special education services during the COVID-19 school closures. What can I do?
If your school did not provide special education services or significantly reduced the amount of services your child was supposed to receive under their 504 plan or IEP, your child may be entitled to compensatory education services. Compensatory education services are “make up” services for missed school services.
Keep a log of the special education or 504 plan services your child has missed and request an IEP or 504 plan meeting to discuss compensatory services. You can use this sample log to keep track of the services that your child has or has not received. Provide a copy of this information to the school district if you request compensatory services from your school district.
My preschool-aged child needs early intervention services, but the school told me they cannot evaluate or develop an early intervention plan right now. What do I do?
School districts must ensure that students who are eligible for special education receive a free appropriate public education. This includes preschool-aged children who are 3-5 years old.
Children who are turning 3 years old and transitioning from an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) with the Regional Center to a special education Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with local school district must continue to receive early intervention services. Your school district is required to put an IEP or IFSP in place before the child’s 3rd birthday. You have the right to request an IEP meeting to discuss your child’s early intervention plan. If an in-person meeting cannot take place, the CDE has suggested that teams use videoconferencing, telephone, or other means to meet this requirement.
As discussed above, school districts may be delaying some assessments due to school closures or offering virtual assessments that are conducted over videoconference, or other alternative means. You may also ask your child’s doctor or other service providers to write a letter to the school district describing the early intervention services your child needs.
Can my child receive special education services if I need to keep them out of school because they are sick or are at high risk of serious illness?
You may decide to keep your child out of school for an extended period of time because they are sick or are in a high-risk group. In this situation, your child may be entitled to home and hospital instruction—services provided to the child at home, in a hospital or other healthcare setting. If your child is hospitalized, the school district where the hospital is located, is responsible for providing home and hospital instruction.
To get home and hospital instruction, you should notify the school right away that your child will be absent for an extended period of time. The school district will have five days to decide whether they will provide individualized instruction. You may wish to provide a doctor’s note that supports your child’s need for home and hospital instruction.
School districts can provide as little as five hours per week of home and hospital instruction. If you do not feel this will be enough, you should call an IEP meeting as soon as possible to discuss any additional special education instruction and services your child needs.
Does my child’s school district have to offer independent study?
Yes. For the 2021-22 school year, school districts and county offices of education must offer independent studies to any student who needs to engage in remote learning, including students whose health would be at risk by returning to school in-person. To accommodate the continued need for distance learning, the state recently changed the law to expand independent studies. Any student remaining on distance learning for the 2021-22 school year will need to enroll in independent studies.
Charter schools, however, are not required to offer independent study.
What is Independent Study?
The purpose of independent study is to provide an alternative education program and setting for students. Independent study programs are voluntary and use alternative instructional strategies that respond to individual student needs and learning styles.
For more information on Independent Study, visit the California Department of Education’s (CDE) website at: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/is/.
What does my school district’s Independent Studies Program look like?
School districts have flexibility in how they create Independent Study Programs. But all districts must give parents a notice explaining their Independent Study Program and the parents’ option to enroll their child in the program. The notice must include the right to request a pupil-parent-educator conference meeting before enrolling in Independent Study and your child’s rights regarding enrolling, disenrolling, and reenrolling in Independent Study.
The notice must also explain the amount of “synchronous instruction” a student will have access to as part of Independent Study. “Synchronous instruction” means remote classroom-style instruction with live two-way communication between the teacher and student.
Do I need to call an IEP meeting to place my child with disabilities on Independent Study?
Yes. Children with disabilities cannot participate in Independent Study unless it is written in their IEP. You can request an IEP meeting in writing to discuss this change, and the school district must hold the meeting within 30 days.
DRC understands that there may be emergency situations where you cannot wait 30 days for an IEP meeting. If this is the case, write a letter to your district that explains why it is an emergency and offer to waive participation of certain IEP team members to make scheduling easier. In some situations, you and the school district can change an IEP without a meeting. This is sometimes called an “IEP amendment.”
Do I need a note from a doctor to prove it is not safe for my child to go to school in person?
No. The child’s parent or guardian decides whether going to school in person poses a health or safety risk.
My child has an IEP. Can the school district deny my request to place my child on Independent Study?
Yes. Under state and federal special education laws, your school district must offer your child a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). When you call an IEP meeting to request your child go on Independent Study, the IEP team may decide that your child’s needs cannot be met on Independent Study. In other words, that Independent Study does not provide your child with a FAPE.
DRC has heard from many families whose children with IEPs have been denied Independent Study at IEP meetings. In many cases, the school district instead offered an in-person placement because it felt Independent Study did not offer the child a FAPE.
These stories are deeply concerning to DRC. We understand that some students with IEPs cannot attend school in person because of the risk COVID-19 poses to their health and safety. Denying Independent Study to at-risk children with IEPs may leave these children with no practical options to attend school safely.
If your school district denies your request for Independent Study, it must provide you with a Prior Written Notice. The Prior Written Notice must explain why it is denying the request for Independent Study and describe the information it used to make the decision. The Prior Written Notice must also inform you of your right to challenge that decision in due process.
Can I challenge the IEP team’s decision Independent Study to my child with an IEP?
Yes. If the IEP team denies your request to place your child with an IEP on Independent Study, you can request mediation and/or a due process hearing, or file a compliance complaint with the CDE. For more information on special education dispute resolution procedures, please review Chapter 6 of our Special Education Rights and Responsibilities (SERR) Manual: https://serr.disabilityrightsca.org/serr-manual/chapter-1-information-o….
If you have questions about your special education rights, please call DRC’s intake line at 1-800-776-5746 (TTY call 1-800-719-5798). DRC’s intake line is available Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday from 9:00AM – 3:00PM.
My child has a 504 plan. Do I need to call a 504 meeting to place my child on Independent Study?
DRC recommends that you call a 504 team meeting before placing your child on Independent Studies. Children with 504 plans are entitled to a FAPE under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act. Because Independent Study is a change of placement, the 504 team may need to modify or add reasonable accommodations to the 504 plan that ensure the child receives a FAPE while on Independent Study.
My child cannot do Independent Studies or attend school in person. Is Home/Hospital Instruction still available?
Yes. Home/Hospital Instruction is still available for general education students, including students with 504 plans, with temporary disabilities who cannot attend school in person. Home/Hospital Instruction is a minimum of five hours per week. The CDE has a Home/Hospital Instruction guide here: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/eo/hh/.
Home/Hospital Instruction is different for students with IEPs. When a student with an IEP needs instruction at home or in a hospital to receive a FAPE, the IEP team must meet to change the child’s placement and determine the appropriate amount of special education and related services the child will receive in the home or hospital. The IEP team must also review a report from a medical professional that explains the need for instruction in the home or a hospital and projects a date for the child to return to school.
My child’s IEP Team offered Independent Study as a “Diagnostic Placement.” What does that mean?
DRC has heard from families that some school districts are offering a temporary change in placement to Independent Studies. A temporary placement like this is sometimes called a “diagnostic placement.” Under a diagnostic placement, the IEP team tries a placement for a short amount of time (for example, 60 days) to gather information and decide whether that placement is appropriate for the child in the long-term.
In some situations, diagnostic placements can be a compromise when the parents and school district cannot agree on a long-term placement. But please note that under a diagnostic placement, your child does not have the right to “stay put” in the placement while you and the district resolve any disagreements.
My child has an IEP and started the year on Independent Study. Can we switch to in-person instruction in the middle of the year?
Yes. The law requires school districts to allow students to transition from Independent Study back to in-person instruction within 5 school days.
But because placement changes must go through the IEP team, it is not clear whether the 5-day timeline applies to students with IEPs. If you wish to take your child with an IEP off of Independent Study and return to in-person instruction, DRC recommends that you request an IEP meeting in writing and document this change in the IEP. This may take longer than 5 days, but it will make sure you maintain all of your special education rights, including the right to receive a Prior Written Notice if the school district does not agree with your request.
How can I receive updates about Independent Study?
The CDE announced on July 15, 2021, that it will soon issue additional guidance and webinars about the new Independent Study requirements. To receive updates from the CDE via email, subscribe to the Independent Study listserv by sending a "blank" message to firstname.lastname@example.org.