Coronavirus - Education - Frequently Asked Questions
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education: Frequently Asked Questions
This page updated February 1, 2021
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 Distance Learning Plan, which should describe how your child’s IEP will be implemented during distance learning.
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.
Can my child get special education services if my school is closed but providing distance learning because of COVID-19?
Yes. If your school is closed but providing education services or resources (i.e. work packets, access to e-books or audio books, or online, telephone, or distance learning) to students without disabilities, the school must make sure that students with disabilities have equal access to those services or resources.
Equal access may include accommodations and modifications, such as making sure materials are available in an accessible format, providing school-purchased devices and assistive technology, assigning reduced assignments, or modifying the curriculum. Equal access may also include individualized special education instruction and related services, including speech, occupational therapy, mental health and behavior supports.
In providing services, your school must consider the individual and unique needs of your child. For some students, telephone or online/video conferencing instruction or services may work. Services may be provided in-person at a school site or in the home, depending on the needs of your child, and health and safety of other students and staff.
My school is implementing a distance learning plan without talking to me or getting my consent. What can I do?
School districts are sending out different notices to parents about special education services during distance learning. Some examples of these notices include Prior Written Notices, Distance Learning Plans, or Emergency Learning Plans. Some school districts are sending out Administrative IEPs (a temporary IEP without an IEP meeting) or holding IEP meetings by phone or video conference and sending out IEP Amendments.
Under Senate Bill 98, a school district is required to create an emergency plan for students with IEPs. This plan should describe how a child will receive special education and related services under emergency conditions. This emergency plan is part of a student’s IEP. You have the right to work with the IEP team to craft this plan. Please see Q&A Number 6 for more information about emergency plans.
If you have received a notice from the school district and you disagree with any of the services and supports the school district is offering, you the right to request an IEP meeting. The school district must provide a meeting within 30 days. You can use this sample letter to request an IEP meeting, and specific services during distance learning.
I have received notice the school district will provide limited or different services and support during the school closure. What can I do?
You have the right to provide “limited consent” to a distance learning plan. You can agree to implement a Distance Learning Plan 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. You can use this sample letter to your school district to provide “limited consent” to a distance learning plan.
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.
Some school districts are asking to delay special education assessments until in-person, indoor classes are back in session. Many school districts are conducting assessments in different ways, for example conducting virtual assessments online through videoconferencing, and in-person assessments with strict social distancing, masks, and other protective measures. You may wish to speak with your IEP team to discuss whether assessment by alternative means might work for your child.
You may have previously requested special education assessments that were delayed during the COVID-19 school closures. Between March 17, 2020 and July 1, 2020 some timelines that are normally in place under California law were waived. For more information on which timelines were waived, check out Special Education Timelines: Do they still apply during this outbreak?
One important timeline that was waived during this time was for assessment plans. Typically, under California law, a school district must provide an assessment plan within 15 days after you request a special education assessment. However, California bill SB117, which was passed on March 17, 2020, waived this 15-day timeline while schools were closed due to COVID-19. But, under California bill SB820, the normal 15-day timelines to receive an assessment are now back in place, as of July 1, 2020. Under SB820, if you previously requested an assessment that was delayed due to the COVID-19 school closures, your school should not continue to delay.
Regardless of SB117, school districts continued to have responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These responsibilities included:
- An obligation to identify students who may be eligible for special education, also known as "child find."
- A duty make reasonable efforts to get parent consent for an initial eligibility assessments and reevaluations of special education students.
- A requirement to conduct triennial assessments, to reassess students at least every three years.
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.
Assessment non-compliance letter - Chinese (pdf)
Assessment non-compliance letter - English (pdf)
Assessment non-compliance letter - Korean (pdf)
Assessment non-compliance letter - Spanish (pdf)
Assessment non-compliance letter - Vietnamese (pdf)
Does my child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) have to include an emergency plan?
Yes. Under a recent California law (California bill SB98), 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. Emergency conditions include epidemics, such as COVID-19, as well as floods, fires, and earthquakes.
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 is refusing to provide or is providing limited special education services during the COVID-19 crisis. What can I do?
If your school is not providing special education services or has significantly reduced the amount of services your child is 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.
Can schools can provide in-person services to special education students in small groups?
Yes. On August 24, 2020, the California Department of Public Health released guidance allowing schools, as well as child care settings, to provide indoor services to small groups, or cohorts. The cohorts can have up to 14 students and 2 adults/teachers. Generally, students and adults in a cohort classroom would only be able to interact with the other members of the cohort. However, service providers would be allowed in to cohort classrooms to provide specialized services, such as one-on-one educational instruction; speech, occupational and physical therapy; and medical and behavioral supports.
Each school district can choose whether or not to offer in-person, indoor cohort classrooms. If you believe your child needs in-person services, you should discuss this with your IEP team. If your school district is not currently offering in-person, indoor cohort classes and you would like them to do so, you can advocate with your school district superintendent and/or school board.
What can I do if my child is being removed or excluded from distance learning?
Federal and state special education laws are still in effect, including those that protect students with disabilities from being suspended or expelled because of their disability. This means that schools should continue to follow state and federal law when it comes to disciplining students with disabilities. For example, schools should be making reasonable efforts to contact parents/guardians and should be mailing notices of discipline. This also means that school districts should be tracking removals from the classroom and, where necessary, conducting Manifestation Determination Review meetings before proposing any changes to a student’s placement.
Some school districts are using different forms of discipline in Distance Learning. For example, some districts are removing students from classrooms and placing them in individual ‘breakout’ rooms, where they do not receive instruction. You should request documentation of any time this happens. If you are concerned that your child is being inappropriately excluded, please contact Disability Rights California for more information.
Please see the SERR manual for more information about suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities.
What if I disagree with the school district because they are not providing my child with services, or not providing enough services and support during a school closure?
You have the right to file a complaint or request a due process hearing if you do not agree with the school district regarding educational supports for your child. See Chapter 6 of the Special Education Rights and Responsibilities manual for more details on how to file a complaint. If you believe that your child’s school has discriminated against your child, you have the right to file a complaint with the United States Office for Civil Rights. For more information on this type of complaint, you can review this publication.