Special Education During COVID-19: Actions To Take Now

Last Updated on July 27, 2022 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

The last two weeks have been a real NEW thing for all of us: being forced home with fear, and with our kids being excluded from school, with no or limited schooling being provided or being provided by us to the best of our abilities.  Meanwhile the Governor of California has stated that school may not be back in until the 2020-21 school year.  There are serious issues in this moment for kids, parents and education.  If your child is a special education student, the issues are probably ten times worse, as now they are not getting their services and supports.  

Special education kids need instruction even more than others due to the potential for regression when away from their education and related services (for example, speech, occupational therapy, adaptive physical education, behavior therapy, other therapies).  

If you are a special education parent and your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you are likely well aware of what Extended School Year (ESY) services are.  These are the summer programs and support services which your child may receive so they don’t lose gains they made during the traditional academic year.  The normal summer break is only about 2-3 months depending on when your school gets out, and many special education students are entitled to ESY services for this short period to prevent regression.
With the Governor’s statement, if true, our kids will be out of school from March to August, which is almost SIX MONTHS.  If a student would regress during the short summer break, what happens with a break that is double the normal time period?  Even special education


Additionally, special education students often require more intensive individualized services.  Even if a school provides some video instruction, how will this help the student who needs more unique instruction and intervention?  And what if they need a classroom aide to assist them and their parents are not trained to provide this type of support?  Who will train their parents to help them?  

Recently, the United States Department of Education (USDOE) released a statement on special education services during this crisis.  In this document it is explained that special education students must be provided with an equal opportunity to access their education to general education students.  If they don’t have a computer to access those programs, presumably one should be provided by the school or school district.  The student also must be provided with equipment, gear and programs to make the computer accessible for them.  Per the document “federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities.”
What if they are not trained how to use such a device in their home?  Presumably some instruction must be provided by the school district.  School districts must rapidly address these needs.
Students with IEPs also must be provided with their related services


while in the home if at all possible.  For example, the USDOE document references provision of speech via video conference.  It is conceivable many other services could also be provided to students, including therapy and behavioral counseling, even socialization groups.  If not, it is also referenced that perhaps students will have claims to receive compensatory services once “regular” school resumes.

Ultimately, special education parents should start with the following steps:
1)  Find out, if not known already, if your school/district is providing educational services for its students.
2)  If so, ensure your child has all the gear to access this service and is receiving education in all classes being offered.  If some classes are missing, figure out how they can access these classes.
3)  If the services are via computer and your child cannot use a computer or needs adaptive gear or programs to do so, or if you don’t have a computer, meaning the child cannot access the curriculum, get in touch with your school/district/special education coordinator and get them to provide the necessary technology, programs and training.
4)  Coordinate with your special education team about how your child will be provided their related services during this time.  Where is their speech to be delivered and how?  What about other online options? What about parent training for home support?
5)  See if you can convene an IEP via phone or teleconference to address these issues for the short term (only while this crisis continues).  If the full IEP team is not available, a reduced group can still discuss and solve these issues.  If no teleconferencing is available, parents can still develop a temporary plan with the staff for their child via email.
There are a lot of questions about what to do, but as with all things, action is required to move things along.
Parents should act fast and not wait at home for the school or district to act, while their child sits not getting services and losing their gains.  We work hard for their success and we should not be forced to lose advancement in one fell swoop.
Take action and be well.