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COVID-19 Impact on Special Education Services

We have listed some questions and answers to commonly expressed concerns of parents with children in need of special education services.

Question:  What about kids with an IEP who, in a normal, non-COVID world, are required to receive supportive services? Are those services gone?  Or can those students somehow receive physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy virtually?

Answer: Those students CAN and SHOULD receive those services virtually.

Turns out, physical therapy and speech therapy have been happening virtually or via tele-medicine for years. Physical therapists in some areas have been reaching out to clients with smart phones and internet connections well before COVID-19 made such a thing seem “normal.”

The occupational therapists (and the insurance companies) took some time, but they have now swallowed the bitter COVID-19 pill and embraced virtual appointments.

Question: Can the school deny a student special services because of COVID-19?

Answer: No.

The IEP is a contract that requires the school to provide those services. Parents should certainly be somewhat flexible with schools given the unique nature of these COVID-19 times. However, now that we are 10 months in, schools need to have found a way to provide those services.  

Furthermore, any service time your child did not receive because of COVID-19 should be made-up by the school at some point soon. We call this make-up time “compensatory education/services.”

Question: Can the school require a student to come physically to school in order to receive special ed services?

Answer: Yes.

In some cases, a school might deem is appropriate for a student to come physically to school to get their services, instead of providing a virtual option. You do not necessarily have to send your child to school, if you believe it to be unsafe. However, the school offering this option fulfills their obligations under the IEP contract.

Question: Due to my student’s disability, they are unable to get an appropriate education at home via virtual school. The school is 100% virtual. What can I do?

Answer: This is a hard one (and a fact-pattern from an actual case). The child is eligible for compensatory services in the future. That’s easy. However, that does not do much to help with the opportunities the student is missing right now. To force a special exception for in-person schooling, you would likely have to retain an attorney and file a Due Process Hearing Request. Even then, I do not know that it is a very strong case, as the school has a legitimate obligation to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

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