Key Points for Special Education in the Time of COVID-19

October 20, 2021
By Gabriela Diller, Founder, Lotus Advocacy

Key Points for Special Education in the Time of COVID 19
So virtual learning and a global pandemic are behind us and we can move on, right? Nope. And as a parent/guardian, I am sure your child’s education is at the forefront of your mind. Rightly so. It’s been a whirlwind for all of us – teachers, leaders, parents/guardians, students, custodians, after school program teachers. We were all in it together doing the best we possibly can. But if your child has an IEP, you might consider reading a bit more about your state’s guidelines on COVID-19 compensatory services and other regulations. Never stop advocating for your child’s needs. We know that earlier intervention has better results. Below are a few key points to start thinking about as you head into the 21-22 school year (wow, let that sink in for a moment).
COVID-19 Key Points
Overview: IEPs are required to be implemented and upheld starting on day 1 of the school year. So far, though state-by-state, there are no waivers or exemptions to honoring deadlines, accommodations, goals and services within the IEP. As it relates to special education, implementation of the IEP is “business as usual” for the 21-22 school year. This might change as the state of the world changes, but if the school is starting in-person, there should be no exceptions. The only caveat is that if schools cannot meet deadlines related to evaluation deadlines, schools are required to communicate with families. Find your state’s department of education website to get regular updates on COVID-19 regulations that might come up and change any expectations.

COVID-19 Compensatory Services (CCS): Every state has different guidance on the legal language used to determine if a student is eligible for compensatory services. In sum, these services are determined by the IEP team if a student did not make progress towards their IEP goals or did not access their services. Below is some guidance that states used to determine eligibility:

  • Schools were required to compare data on goals from the 20-21 school year to the 19-20 school year prior to March 2020 when schools started to move to virtual school.
  • If students during the 20-21 school year regressed towards their goals compared to pre-March 19-20 progress, they are eligible.
  • If students did not have access or did not access their services from March 2020-June 2020 they should have been eligible in 20-21 for compensatory services and might continue to be eligible in 21-22.
Remote Learning Plans (RLP): Some states required the creation and implementation of remote learning plans which outlined how and when IEP services would occur based on a school’s specific model. It’s possible these will not exist for the 21-22 school year as many schools are planning to go back full-time, business as usual.
Requesting an Evaluation: I highly recommend requesting an evaluation in writing, so it is timestamped. Every state has different timeline rules because IDEA (the federal guidance) is vague and says schools must respond in a “reasonable” amount of time. Schools are required to respond to an evaluation request around 10-30 days. Once an evaluation consent form is signed, it can take about 60 days. In Massachusetts, schools must begin testing within 30 days and meet within 45 days.

Tips for Starting the 21-22 School Year

1. Know the key players: Create a document that lists your child’s IEP team members, their role and their contact information. If you have access to a schedule of services, you might consider including that as well. For example:

Ms. Davis
Ms. Jones
School Counselor
Speech Language Pathologist
Service Schedule
Thursday 8:15am in-person
Wednesday 12pm virtual

Additionally, make contact with your special education teacher, liaison or case manager. Every school uses a different language for this person, but you want to set-up a time to chat with them ASAP. This is the IEP manager essentially and should be your point-person for the school year.

2. Request a Team Reconvene at the beginning of the year and discuss compensatory services: This is a great way to get to know your IEP Team, get all your questions answered right away and make any necessary changes to the IEP at the start of the year proactively. So often I hear schools say “let’s see how it goes” and then staff is quick to respond when kids are failing or not making progress. Get a positive, proactive meeting scheduled as early as possible and make sure to consider discussing compensatory services. Know which services, if any, will be conducted virtually. Ensure the IEP has all necessary accommodations, goals and services to address 20-21 progress or lack thereof. A great place to review is your children’s progress reports from 19-21 to measure growth or regression. Ensure you receive a document in writing discussing compensatory services.

3. Propose a mode and frequency of communication: Once you know who your point-person is and once a meeting occurs, collaborate on a plan for regular communication. Every kid is different, but I always think weekly is a good place to start and then you can pull away and move to monthly if your child is progressing and things feel steady. Share your preferred mode of communication such as text message, email or phone call. Teachers can use apps like “Remind” or Google Voice to text with families versus using personal phones. Maybe you prefer a log of updates in writing that you can review at your leisure versus regular calls or emails. Remember that schools work for you and your kids! It is their job to collaborate with their means and develop a plan (by law). Make sure you also have access to any online platforms that might monitor progress or grades.

4. For tough conversations, keep it student-centered: We are all at the table for student success. Try to keep personal statements out of the conversation and keep it focused on the student’s disability impact and need. For example, instead of saying “I feel like my daughter needs audiobooks in class” reword to state something like “My daughter’s reading disability makes it hard for her to identify the words on the page and read at the appropriate pace. She requires audiobooks as an accommodation.” If needed, remind the team that we are all here for the same reasons.

5. Ask for support or a second opinion: COVID-19 has made everything in our lives extra challenging when digesting special education is already hard enough. It’s truly like speaking another language. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the school, from another parent, from Mightier, a teacher or an advocate.

And don’t forget to give yourself some grace. We are navigating uncharted territory. It’s important to do everything we can to be united as an IEP team while still advocating relentlessly for what our kids need. If you would like any more information or specific guidance, you can reach me at [email protected] and check out my website for additional resources.

Mightier helps children learn emotional coping skills through playing video games


Mightier helps children learn emotional coping skills through playing video games