No doubt there are many parents who are still anxious about the current school year and how COVID-19 changes have affected their IEP process and procedure safeguards.
Our good friend, and fellow DSRG parent, Linda LaPointe, the Executive Director at JERICHO was able to compile a list topics to help.
Q: Will schools continue to use “COVID-19 Special Education Learning Plans” during school year 2021-2022?
No. Schools are expected to provide full-time, in-person learning for students for school year 2021-2022. IEP teams must document all services in IEPs.
Q: How should districts and schools provide services to students with disabilities who cannot return to school in-person during the 2021-2022 school year due to a medical condition?
Some students with disabilities might have health or medical conditions that will prevent them from returning to in-person learning during the upcoming school year. The Department’s special education regulations provide that if, in the opinion of a student’s physician, “an eligible student is likely to remain at home, in a hospital, or in a pediatric nursing home for medical reasons and for more than 60 school days in any school year, the Administrator of Special Education shall, without undue delay, convene a Team to consider evaluation needs and, if appropriate, to amend the existing IEP or develop a new IEP suited to the student's unique circumstances” (603 CMR 28.04(4)). The Department has prepared a new physician’s affirmation form that may be used by districts and schools to share with families of children with disabilities to whom this might apply to obtain the necessary information from the student’s physician. This new physician’s affirmation form is available here: https://www.doe.mass.edu/prs/sa-nr/603cmr28.04-4-form/.
For additional information, please see Question and Answer Guide on the Implementation of Educational Services in the Home or Hospital, available at https://www.doe.mass.edu/prs/ta/hhep-qa.html.
Q: How should districts or schools provide services to students with disabilities who cannot return to school in-person due to a medical condition and must remain at home or in a hospital for a period of more than fourteen days but less than sixty days during the 2021-2022 school year?
The Department’s regulations provide that, upon receipt of a physician's written order verifying that any student enrolled in a public school or placed by the public school in a private setting must remain at home or in a hospital on a day or overnight basis, or any combination of both, for medical reasons and for a period of not less than fourteen school days in any school year, the principal shall arrange for provision of educational services in the home or hospital. The principal shall coordinate such services with the Administrator of Special Education for eligible students (603 CMR 28.03(3)(c)). The Department’s “Physician Affirmation of Need for Temporary Home or Hospital Education for Medically Necessary Reasons” form may be used by districts and schools to share with families to obtain the necessary information from the student’s physician. This physician affirmation of need for temporary home or hospital education for medically necessary reasons form is available here: https://www.doe.mass.edu/prs/sa-nr/603cmr28.03-3c-form/.
For additional information about this regulation and providing these services, please see Question and Answer Guide on the Implementation of Educational Services in the Home or Hospital, available at https://www.doe.mass.edu/prs/ta/hhep-qa.html.
Q: Can districts continue to hold virtual IEPs meetings?
Yes. As students return to full-time, in-person learning, it is more important than ever to build strong relationships with families and continue meaningful family engagement initiatives that may facilitate family participation.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) contemplates that IEP meetings may be held via telephone and/or video conference. Districts can continue to hold IEP Team meetings using these alternatives means of meeting participation if the parent or guardian agrees to participate using these alternative means.
Q: What are the factors that might lead to consideration of compensatory services for students as a result of unforeseen circumstances or inability to fully implement an IEP during the 2020-21 school year?
USED and DESE have stated that all students were entitled to receive FAPE during the 2020-2021 school year regardless of the instructional model used (remote, hybrid, or modified in-person). DESE’s COVID-19 Compensatory Services Guidance was intended to address any disruption or delay in instruction or service delivery during the spring and summer of 2020. However, if a student’s IEP was not fully implemented or if other extenuating circumstances arose during the 2020-2021 school year that impacted the student’s ability to access FAPE, the Team should seek to address any need for compensatory services as necessary and appropriate. In particular, IEP Teams should discuss the individual need for compensatory services for the following groups of students who are potentially more likely to need those services:
- Students with disabilities in districts that were fully remote for three or more months during the 2020-21 school year;
- All students with disabilities who were chronically absent during the 2020-21 school year; and
- All students with disabilities who had significant difficulty accessing remote learning offered by the school district due to the nature or severity of the child’s disability, technology barriers, language access barriers, or barriers resulting from the pandemic.
A discussion about compensatory services related to issues stemming from the 2020-2021 school year can occur during the annual Team meeting, during a meeting that has been scheduled to discuss COVID-19 Compensatory Services stemming from the 2019-2020 school year or during any other Team meeting. In the event that the IEP Team has not yet convened to address a student’s individual need for compensatory services consistent with DESE’s guidance, the district should convene the IEP Team meeting as soon as possible during the 2021-2022 school year to make individualized determinations of need. Parents and guardians also have the procedural rights to request an IEP Team meeting, pursue a due process hearing at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals or file a complaint with the Department’s Problem Resolution System Office.