4 steps to creating contingency plans to implement IEPs

When schools aren't able to operate under standard conditions, IEP teams must ensure there are plans in place for special education students are still receive services.

As school buildings reopen to students only to be closed again because of renewed COVID-19 outbreaks, it’s clear that all school districts nationwide must have contingency plans. They must prepare for how they are going to implement students’ IEPs when they aren’t able to operate under standard conditions.

These plans can also apply when there are natural disasters and other situations that prevent students from receiving services as detailed in their IEPs for an extended period of time. But if school-based teams just make decisions about these plans without parent involvement, they may impede parents’ ability to meaningfully participate in their child’s educational program. That can quickly lead to claims of predetermination. Discussing with parents the reality of what you can provide under abnormal circumstances before they happen is crucial.

“The most fundamental thing you can do is involve the parents because they are going to be impacted by this more than you if students have to learn at home part time or full time,” says Matt Tamel, a school attorney at the Berkeley, Calif., office of Dannis Woliver Kelley.

Use these ideas to develop contingency plans for students with IEPs:

  1. Review state and district laws and policies. States and districts have various requirements when it comes to an interim plan for students with disabilities. For example, California education code now requires a description for how the IEP will be implemented under emergency conditions, including the delivery of special education and related services, supplementary aids and services, transition services and extended school year services. Work with parents during their child’s IEP meeting to determine how services will be provided in an abnormal situation, Tamel says. Look at how the student can continue to have access to peers if that is part of his IEP. Also set out how you will collect data on the student’s progress. “The best thing to do is to work together,” he adds.
  2. Emphasize individualization. Ensure the plan you create is tailored to each student’s individual needs. “A district should not say when there is an emergency, ‘This is what every student is going to get,'” Tamel says. “You have to look at each student individually.” Keep equity in mind. If there is something that will be impossible to carry out under nonstandard circumstances, discuss with parents ahead of time how you will make up for that or address that considering the situation. “It really needs to be impossible and you really need to articulate it because otherwise a judge can look at it and go, ‘You didn’t really try,'” he says. “Districts need to be responding with equity if they want equity down the road.”
  3. Specify service minutes. Be upfront with parents about how their child will continue to receive his service minutes. “The easiest conversation to have is, ‘We’re going to keep your child’s 30 minutes of speech, but it’s going to be delivered differently,'” he says. “Whether or not it’s effective will be measured by your child’s progress and we won’t know how much progress your child has made until down the road.” Also share the reality of the school day under abnormal circumstances, Tamel says. For example, a full day of distance learning may amount to fewer instructional minutes than a full traditional school day. So, if a student is typically entitled to a full day of one-to-one support from a paraprofessional, he’ll still receive a full day, but fewer minutes under emergency circumstances. “You have to communicate that,” he says.
  4. Keep the plan flexible. While you should specify how you will implement the student’s service minutes in the interim plan, don’t get too specific about who will be providing the services, Tamel says. While you must designate the type of service provider, such as a speech-language pathologist, resist putting the names of staff in the plan even if parents request them. The family may move or a staff member may become ill and the plan would no longer be helpful.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.

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