As we all come to grips with the new temporary norms across our country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical we understand and fully appreciate the impact this outbreak is having on special education and related services to our children with disabilities and families. It is absolutely essential that families make informed decisions about the educational wellbeing of their children with disabilities by first consulting with their local school district. It is also equally important that families know their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during this crisis situation:
- Uncertainty: There is still a great deal of uncertainty about e-learning details that are officially being rolled out week, differences among districts, and whether or not teleconference PPTs are happening.
- Potential School Closures Until Sept. 2020: Do not count on school closures lasting just for the next two or four weeks. There is serious discussion at the state level about extending all Connecticut school closures through the end of the school year.
- FAPE: The law requires that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). No waivers of that requirement have been issued. While the obligation to provide a FAPE lapses when there is no school, such as on a snow day, the obligation remains if education is being provided to others, even through distance learning.
- PPTs: Just as the FAPE requirement continues, the procedural requirements of the law continue, including the need for annual review PPT meetings. Parents can waive objections to a late annual review PPT, but the district may not agree to postpone it. Conversely, districts may seek to extend your child’s annual review PPT date, but parents are not legally obligated to agree to it.
- Out-of-District Settlement Placements: If your child is placed out-of-district through a settlement agreement through my firm, the terms and conditions of that agreement remain in force. If the placement is operating, the district has to continue to support it. If the agreement provides for transportation, the district has to continue to supply transportation. However, if the agreement has some minimum attendance requirement in it and the placement is closed, we may well face a fight to get the full level of reimbursement from the district.
- Out-of-District IEP Placements: If your child is placed out-of-district through an IEP, and the placement is closed, there is a change in placement and the district needs to convene a PPT meeting to change the placement.
- E-Learning: Education through a computer or a phone call is not the same as in-person, in-school education. This is particularly the case for students with disabilities. Nevertheless, parents should work with their schools to get the most and best education during this period of closure. When this is over, I will call a PPT to seek compensatory education both for the loss of services during the period of closure and for any regression your child has suffered due to inadequate services.
- School Meetings, etc.: My firm and I are seeking to have PPT meetings, mediations, and due process hearings continue and held during the period of closure; they will be conducted either through telephone conference calls or through video streaming services. Without the moderating impact of direct human contact, these meetings are likely to be more formal and more confrontational than in-person meetings. Please be aware of this fact: do not let the format ruin your relationship with your school. At the same time, do not let your silence be mistaken for assent. For those of you that I am currently representing, I of course will be taking the lead at all PPTs meetings as usual.
- SEEK OF CT: As an Executive Board Member and Secretary of SEEK of CT, it is my legal position and that of our executive board that educating a child through distance learning, rather than direct services in school is a change in placement. That means the PPT needs to meet and modify the IEP. The State Department of Education does not, at this point, agree with this legally supported position.
- Calm: Now is a time for patience. Focus on the safety of your children and family first. Consult with your school over the next week or two to see what can be developed for your child before moving to confrontation. My firm and I are ready to advocate for you when it becomes necessary. We are here for you.