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FAQs for Parents/Guardians of Children with Disabilities During COVID-19

Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program, Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Southern Poverty Law Center

Information for Parents/Children with Disabilities

Contents


My child has an IEP. They got individualized supports and services when schools were in session. What does the school have to do now that schools are closed?

The school still has to follow your child’s IEP. Students with disabilities have a right to all the supports and services that the child needs to:

  • access educational benefit and

  • make progress.

This is called a “free and appropriate public education,” or FAPE. The U.S. Department of Education said that schools should not stop all education services to avoid providing IEP services.

 

So what does this mean in real life? The school has to follow the IEP as closely as possible while schools are closed. Most school districts in Georgia are providing all students:

  • online instruction or

  • take-home materials.

If your child with a disability finds it difficult to learn online or from take-home packets, you have a right to individualized supports. These supports should help your child learn and make progress while school is closed. Communicate these needs to the school in writing and follow-up with them. Some individualized supports your child might need include:

  • oral reading of course material or

  • pre-scheduled one-on-one time with a teacher. 

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Will the Department of Education waive the requirements for special education students?

No, not as of April 15, 2020. It could, but it has not waived these requirements. The U.S. Department of Education has 30 days to request waivers of special education services. The thirty days should end on April 27, 2020.  Unless this happens, school districts have to meet all special education laws. We will likely know more on April 27 about what to expect for special education for the future. 

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In the past, my child’s school has had to meet deadlines for holding IEP meetings. Do deadlines for initial eligibility meetings and annual reviews of my child’s IEP still apply? 

Generally, yes. At this time, schools should still:

  • provide special education services and

  • follow specific deadlines.

Deadlines can be met through teleconferencing and other remote options. IEP teams should continue to follow deadlines so long as it can be done in a safe and workable way. We do recommend that parents be reasonable. Consider rescheduling an IEP meeting for the fall if:

  • the IEP is working for now, and

  • the school is acting in good faith to follow the current IEP.  

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Can the school take away services from my student with an IEP?

Not without changing the IEP. Your child’s current IEP remains in effect. 

 

Your child’s school might try to get you to agree to a reduction in services:

  • in an IEP meeting or

  • by asking you to change or amend the IEP in writing without having an IEP meeting.

You do not have to agree to the school’s suggestions or sign anything.

 

Parents and caregivers should be somewhat flexible during this crisis. But, you have every right to work with your school to make sure that your child receives as many of their necessary services as possible. A child’s IEP content, goals, and services should not be reduced based on school closures. You should work with your school to develop new approaches to:

  • meet your child’s IEP goals and

  • get the service your child needs. 

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My child’s IEP included one-on-one counseling/in-person occupational therapy/hands-on physical therapy. I’m worried my child will fall behind without these services. What can I do right now?

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has said that schools have to provide special education services to the greatest extent possible. The U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) asked for “parents, educators, and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities."

 

Some in-person, hands-on services cannot safely or effectively happen during this time. But, OSERS asks schools to give all the disability-related accommodations and services possible. GaDOE guidance is similar.  They require school districts to consider alternative means of providing necessary therapies. Some schools have allowed students to hold therapy sessions by phone or video. 

 

If there is a service or support that you know your child needs to succeed, you should discuss that service with your child’s school.

 

The school district may be unable to provide the exact service that will most benefit your child. However, the school must work with you to come up with creative solutions. School districts across the country have developed creative alternatives for children. If you are concerned about your child’s progress while schools are closed, reach out to your child’s:

  • teacher(s),

  • school psychologists, or

  • special education directors.

Check the GaDOE website for resources and ideas. As a parent, you have the right to suggest other options to try for now instead of direct services. 

 

If your child needs a service that the school district cannot give now, you might have a right to compensatory education. Compensatory education are services provided to a child to make up for services that the school failed to provide.  See more about compensatory education below.

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My child’s IEP included social or behavioral goals. How can my child progress on those goals while schools are closed?

The school district should continue to provide supports if your child’s IEP includes:

  • behavior goals and

  • specific supports for their social-emotional learning.

 

If your student was working through a social-emotional curriculum program, the school should continue to provide:

  • access to that program and

  • support for the student to make progress in that program.

If your student’s IEP includes social skills development, the school should continue to provide those services. The school should also provide time for your student to interact with other students over the phone or computer.

 

There are also some free online social-emotional learning resources that parents can try. You can also ask your child’s teachers/psychologists/social workers to use them. 

 

Your child might also be able to get compensatory education when schools reopen. Compensatory education is to make up for skills and progress lost during the COVID-19 closures. See below for more information about compensatory education. 

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My child’s school is offering online education. This is difficult for my child with a disability. What can I do?

Any instruction or service the school gives to its students must also be available to students with disabilities. Schools must provide these services in an accessible format. For example, if your child has a disability that makes online instruction difficult, learning must be adapted for your child’s needs. OSERS encourages creativity in light of the practical constraints COVID-19 presents. For instance, if most students get school work in writing, a teacher can give visually impaired students an audio recording.

 

Services that most schools can continue to provide include:

  • smaller groups,

  • chunking assignments,

  • one-on-one help, and

  • extra time. 

 

If your child is struggling, you should:

  • Tell the school in writing that the current setup is not working and your child is not progressing on her IEP goals.

  • ask for an IEP meeting to discuss services that will work for your child. You can also ask in writing about how to put in place appropriate services for your child.

  • keep records of the school’s response and detail how and what they are providing to your child. 

 

You may also find it helpful to review your student’s IEP. See what supports your student received while school was in session. Did your child receive graphic organizers, laptops, or personalized checklists to help with tasks? There is no reason those services cannot continue while schools are closed.

 

Ask others what they think would most help your child with a disability learn from home. You might ask:

  • your child’s teachers,

  • school psychologists,

  • behavior analysts,

  • therapists,

  • medical providers,

  • mentors,

  • pastors,

  • tutors, or

  • family members.

Share this information with your child’s school. You should also document your child’s progress as much as possible.

 

Your child might able to get compensatory education if:

  • Your child was meeting her goals before the school closed, but

  • Is behind by the time school opens again.

See below for more information about compensatory education.

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My child could definitely benefit from extra help from school right now. But I am already overburdened caring and providing for my family. Where do I turn to for help?

You should notify the school that you are not able to implement your child’s IEP. Tell the school that your child is not receiving an appropriate education. You should share any suggestions you may have, or call for an IEP meeting. The IEP team must come up with solutions to make sure your child gets a free appropriate public education.

 

You should always document the school’s response and plans to address your child’s needs. This documentation will help if there is any confusion when your child returns to school. 

 

You may also seek out an attorney or advocate who can work with you to make sure your child’s needs are met. See below for information about attorneys who may be able to help you.

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Can I ask for an IEP meeting while schools are closed?

Yes. The Georgia Department of Education has encouraged school districts to hold virtual IEP meetings. If you believe an IEP meeting is necessary, do not hesitate to ask for one. Your child’s school still has to provide you with notice of the IEP meeting.

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My child was in the middle of undergoing an evaluation when schools closed. Can/should the evaluation continue?

It depends. The Georgia Department of Education has said:

  • Evaluations and assessments should continue if they can be done online or remotely.

  • But, if in-person meetings or observations are required, evaluations might be delayed if there is no safe alternative.

 

Evaluations are very important to determine a child’s needs and services. Evaluations should be thorough and completed by a professional without any shortcuts. If an evaluation cannot be done  properly without face-to-face contact, you may have to wait until schools are back in session.

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How can my child’s progress be monitored while learning from home?

Progress monitoring data should still be collected while your child learns from home. Ask your child’s teachers how they plan to track the data for each of your child’s IEP goals. You should try to keep track of your child’s data and progress. This way, when the IEP team meets next, you will have some information about how your child did during this time. At a minimum, you should:

  • document your child’s progress at the start and end of the school closure, and/or

  • Ask for this information from your child’s school.

Any lack in progress or regression (forgetting what was learned or losing skills) during school closure may entitle your child to compensatory education.

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Can I ask for an evaluation while schools are closed?

Yes, absolutely. An evaluation might be especially useful to observe how your student learns in a remote or online education setting. Ask your child’s school about conducting an evaluation online or remotely. Of course, there may be some limitations to evaluations.

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Compensatory Education. I believe my child with a disability will fall behind while schools are closed. What can be done to help my child catch up when schools reopen?

Your child might have a right to compensatory education if:

  • your child needs supports or services to progress that they can't get while school is closed, and

  • What the school district is offering is not enough for your child to progress.

The Georgia Board of Education asks local school districts to consider compensatory education for students whose individual needs cannot be met in a remote setting. 

 

So what does this mean in real life? If they can't meet your child’s needs during this time, the school district should give them extra instruction and services later. In other words, schools should make up for the services that could not be done while school is closed. This is called compensatory education. Compensatory services are to make up for IEP services that should have been done by the school, but were not. 

 

Document your child's progress when school closed and when it reopens. This information is key to determining whether your child needs compensatory education.

  • Track your child’s learning.  

  • Record everything you do and everything the school does to follow your child’s IEP.

  • To decide what services your child needs, you can record your child doing schoolwork. This will document how your child is currently performing. You should keep work samples. Share these things with the school.

  • Ask for any records that the school has about how your child performed before the schools closed.

  • Keep records of everything you ask the school and their responses to your requests.

  • If you have an IEP meeting, ask for compensatory education and Extended School Year (ESY) to be a part of the plan.  Explain that your child fell behind and/or you expect that your child will not advance or will regress. 

 

Compensatory education is different from Extended School Year (ESY). Even if your child’s IEP team decides that they need ESY over the summer, your child may also have a right to extra instruction or services. These extra services are to compensate for losses due to COVID-19 school closures.

 

The data and information that you collect during this crisis will be important. This information will determine:

  • whether your child can get compensatory education, and

  • what those services will look like.

 

The information listed is current as of April 15, 2020, and is subject to change.

 

For updated information, you should:

  • check the State Board of Education website and

  • stay in contact with your local school district. 


An attorney or advocate may be able to assist you throughout this process. 

 

If you live in Cobb, Clayton, Dekalb, Fulton or Gwinnett counties you can contact the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) for help.  ALAS represents low-income Georgians in education matters.  Their office is open even during the covid 19 crisis, but employees are working from home.  You can contact 

 

If you live outside of the Atlanta area, you can contact the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP).  GLSP represents low-income Georgians in education matters. GLSP is still accepting cases and employees are working from home. Contact 1-833-GLSPLAW to see if you are eligible for help. 

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Resources

  • There are also some free online social-emotional learning resources that parents can try.
  • If you live in Cobb, Clayton, Dekalb, Fulton or Gwinnett counties you can contact the Atlanta Legal Aid Society (ALAS) for help.  ALAS represents low-income Georgians in education matters.  Their office is open even during the covid 19 crisis, but employees are working from home.  You can contact 
  • If you live outside of the Atlanta area, you can contact the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP).  GLSP represents low-income Georgians in education matters. GLSP is still accepting cases and employees are working from home. Contact 1-833-GLSPLAW to see if you are eligible for help. 
Last Review and Update: Apr 22, 2020