Serving Students with an IEP During COVID

COVID-19 has created circumstances that are unprecedented in the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). As the science surrounding this pandemic evolves, our capacity to provide FAPE evolves. Each student (ages 3 thru 22) with an individualized education program (IEP) “receives special education and related services that are designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living” (Purpose of IDEA, 2004). All students with an IEP are afforded the same educational engagement options available to all students (e.g., in-person, home study, and eSchool).

Working closely with our county health department, our school board and our superintendency, we are applying three imperatives in the provision of IEP services:

  1. Comply with all health/safety directives to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
  2. Engage each student in the services that are on his/her IEP.
  3. Be inclusive by ensuring (to the maximum extent appropriate) that a student with a disability (SWD) has access to the “essential learnings” in English Language Arts and Math in the general curriculum (the curriculum available to all students) and the general education teacher(s).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. If a student with a disability has a unique health vulnerability, how will the school ensure his/her safety while providing the IEP services?
    • For students with health vulnerabilities, the IEP team should refer to the student’s health plan, involve the school nurse, and develop a plan looking at in-person, home study, and eSchool options. Be adaptable and innovative in meeting the unique needs of students on an IEP. These students will continue to receive their specially designed instruction and related services consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students and educators.
    • Note: Our biggest priority is student and staff safety. Special educators and instructional aides will use Personal Protective Equipment (i.e., face shields, masks, gloves, etc.) and apply environment hygiene/safety protocols to serve students with an IEP in the classroom and on the bus.
  2. If a student with an IEP has a sensory issue with wearing a mask or a health issue wearing a mask, can that student be exempted from wearing a mask?
    • A student with a disability can be exempted from wearing a mask due to a medical condition, necessity to communicate (i.e. deaf/hard of hearing), and/or if the student is unable to remove the mask without assistance. A school nurse, parent, the special ed teacher and the principal should be involved in discussing and documenting the reasons for the exemption. The completed form (available at the school) should be signed by the parent, principal and school nurse and then placed in the health section of the blue folder.
    • Note: The special education teacher should regularly communicate with the school nurse and parent about how the student is doing.
  3. How should a school respond when a parent approaches you with a request for additional in-person school days and/or instructional time?
    • Listen and consider all requests. Review each child’s IEP services and determine with the parent what additional in-person instruction time is needed to meet FAPE. Document all decisions either in the IEP (Parent Contact Section) or through an amendment to the IEP. Special education services can occur in-person more than 2 days a week, after school and on Fridays for those students who need them.
    • Note: A special ed teacher or a parent may initiate the request. The additional in-person days and/or instructional time should be driven by data and need. Consider multiple data sources such as Pre-COVID and post-COVID data, the type and intensity of services, input from parents, barriers associated with providing certain services online and involve related service providers based on the services in the IEP (i.e., SLP, school psych, OT, PT, nurse, etc.).
  4. May my student with an IEP participate in “Home Study” with some in-person services (i.e., speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.)?
    • Yes, where it is determined that certain special services are best delivered in-person at the school due to barriers in technology, access concerns and/or the capacity of the student. Document all decisions either in the IEP (Parent Contact Section) or through an amendment to the IEP.
  5. My child really struggled with on-line learning last Spring. Would it be appropriate to refer my child for a special ed testing?
    • It Depends. If sufficient “referral red flags” are already evident, the school or a parent may refer a child for a comprehensive special ed evaluation when there is reasonable suspicion that a child may have a disability and a need for special education services. New referrals should proceed in a timely manner in the same way that they would have prior to COVID.

Perspective Consideration: It is likely that some students (with and without disabilities) will require additional support upon their return to school following the COVID-19 closures. Visit with your child’s teacher about additional interventions and support. Each school has a Student Success Team (SST) made up of education professionals who gather data, problem-solve the barriers to student learning and guide the implementation of interventions. If your child responds to the interventions, celebrate! If your child does not respond over a reasonable amount of time, the school or the parent may want to refer the student for additional testing under Section 504 or under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).