How academics, social development factor into modes of instruction

Special education leaders must provide virtual learning for students with the individual need
By: | February 23, 2021
(AdobeStock/natapetrovich)(AdobeStock/natapetrovich)

As schools return to in-person learning, IEP teams must continue to consider the individual needs of students, special education consultant Mary Schillinger says.

A parent’s request to keep their student in virtual learning should prompt the IEP team to review if the student has been meeting all his IEP goals and objectives.

Schillinger, who is also a faculty member at California State University, Northridge, said the team, then, should decide on that student’s individual progress and needs.

“You can’t go to a one-size-fits-all for every student, particularly for special education students,” said Schillinger. She said IEP teams should consider the learning model that works best for the individual student, be it remote, in person or hybrid.

Schillinger said that, when determining which mode of instruction is best for a student, the IEP team should examine factors including the student’s academic progress, social skills development, and their transitioning flexibility.

Schillinger explained that the IEP team might conclude that a student is making great progress in virtual learning, and the team agrees with the parent that FAPE can be met through the virtual environment.


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On the other hand, she said, the IEP team may say a student is making progress on their academic goals, but virtual learning is not helping the student make progress socially and manage social expectations; therefore, the team determines that virtual learning is not providing FAPE.

“And there may be something in between,” said Schillinger.

She recommends IEP teams consider the following:

Online learning capacity is reduced or dismantled for in-person learning

Schillinger said that some districts may not continue to offer any kind of virtual education once in-person learning resumes. In this case, special education programs must consider how to create a virtual learning environment for students with the individual need.

“If the student did better at meeting their goals virtually, the IEP team should look at it,” said Schillinger.

Schillinger said the risk for districts who disregard these outcomes and fail to offer virtual learning could be: 1) a parent pulling their child out of school; 2) enrolling the student into a virtual school; and 3) asking the district to pay for the virtual school.


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Schillinger said most districts offer some type of virtual platform or independent study for secondary students.

Deficit areas that can only be met in a general education setting

Schillinger said districts should want their students to engage in general education, in the least restrictive environment, to the maximum extent appropriate.

For students who are average or above-average in their social-emotional skills, a district may want to minimize the amount of virtual learning and not take away general education learning, she said.

“I think it’s going to be rare that a family requests continued virtual learning because most students like to be in school,” said Schillinger.

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for LRP Publications.