As schools all over the country are closing and moving to distance learning models, it’s a great time to think about how our IEPs stack up for this kind of event. It’s unprecidented, so don’t feel bad if your IEPs don’t yet reflect these considerations. We are all learning together. I want to help you learn to Write IEPs that consider remote and elearning days. I recommend reading the whole article, but I’ve also created an easy to print and use checklist that you can use in future IEP meetings to make sure you are thinking of all the scenarios needed. Good luck and happy planning!
What does THE LAW say?
Complete School Closure
If your school is completely closed to all students due to an emergency, you are not required to provide services to a student with a disability. This is the easiest scenario, but there is no predicting what your district will do in the future. It’s better to not assume that school will be completely closed. In an ideal world, your district would know if they will close completely or do remote/eLearning before an emergency occurs. But because all emergency situations are difficult, a district probably won’t commit to one way or another for all emergencies. For us, that means we should plan for distance and virtual learning in our IEPs.
Creating a distance learning plan isn’t required in an IEP, but considering what we have learned now during the COVID-19 epidemic, it is wise to do so. I’ve had IEPs that required the student to be physically in the building to work on certain goals. How would this be possible in a remote or virtual environment? It wouldn’t be! In your contingency plan, consider the following:
Examples: Another school building, home, etc. If you are relocating to another building, consider transportation.
- What tech is available to the student at home?
- Does the family have internet and devices?
- Are their enough devices per child?
- Does the child have independent or guided access to the technology?
- Will the student benefit from phone calls?
- How long should phone calls last?
- How often should the calls take place?
- Would phone calls help reassure the student and mitigate problematic behaviors?
- Who else can call besides the special education teachers, in case they are unavailable due to the emergency?
- What can the student do at home independently to maintain skills?
- What can the student practice at home with video or telephone support to build skills?
- Do we have appropriate remote and/or virtual activities for each IEP goal?
- Consider how data collection will be handled, especially on goals related to toileting and hygiene.
Related Services at Home.
- Which related services does the student receive at school, like speech, OT, or PT?
- Can their related services be done remotely?
- Can providers safely provide in home services and if so, for how long?
- Consider travel time that isn’t normally part of the teacher’s day and the inability to group students.
Special Education Services at Home.
- In what circumstances would home bound services be safe and unsafe?
- Would home bound services be appropriate?
- How much time would be appropriate?
What could Trigger a Distance or ELearning Plan in an IEP?
We need to think beyond pandemics when thinking about distance and virtual learning. Natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires can pose long disruptions to school as well. This is a great opportunity to talk about what technology access the student has at home so you can plan appropriately.
Medically High Risk Students
As the situation has progressed, I’ve become increasingly more concerned about former students of mine who have medical difficulties. I hope they remain safe and well during this time. You very well might have students in your heart who are also more vulnerable to the virus. Here is what you should know about extended time out of school for them, while school is in session.
10 Days or Less
If a student needs to be absent for less than 10 days while school is still in session, providing services like online or virtual instruction are not considered a change in placement. If it appears that the duration will be longer, go ahead and call an IEP meeting to discuss long term least restrictive environments.
10 Days or More
If a student is going to be absent for over 10 days, a different environment needs to be considered for the student’s least restrictive environment.
Related services cover a bunch of territory. They can’t be left out of our contingency planning. Here are just some of the potential related services you might have in an IEP. Make sure you are addressing each of these in your plan.
- Speech Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Physical Therapy
- Auditory Services
- Counseling Services
- Orientation and Mobility Services
- Vision Services
- Transportation Services
You might be thinking this is great but you don’t have IEPs with these plans currently in place. If your school is doing distance learning for general education kids and your children are not getting services. Compensatory services go to to students when the school has not been able to provide an appropriate education. Often these services involve court cases. Usually the compensatory services occur for the same amount of time that services were missed. So if services were missed for two weeks, your school owes two weeks of services.
Extended School Year (ESY)
Once you are back at school after an unexpected absence, you may find that your students have regressed. You need to jump in to taking data right away when you are back at school to show eligibility or not for ESY. If your data shows that your student is at risk of loosing critical skills during an extended period away from school and does not recoup their skills quickly enough, ESY should be recommended.
IDEA Guidance from the Government
How do I know this stuff? I’m basing my recommendations on the advice from Ed.Gov. You can find their Questions and Answers about COVID-19 here. I’m not a lawyer, just another teacher like you, and you should definitely get guidance from your district on this. I want to help you think through these tough questions before the next emergency situation strikes. It’s a much better feeling to know you have a plan in place than having to scramble to figure out how to appropriately provide services when things go sideways. If you are looking for more general information on IEP writing, you can find my advice on it here.