Don’t rush into conversations about comp ed
A student’s IEP team can decide whether he needs compensatory education in the wake of a school closure tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to “Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children With Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, 76 IDELR 77 (EDU 2020).”
But that doesn’t mean every district needs to start planning for the provision of compensatory education now. In fact, planning so far ahead could mean the proposed services will be deemed inappropriate when schools begin to reopen.
“Everybody needs to … collect data and keep trying to support students as best they can now,” says Jessica Witte, a school attorney at Thompson & Horton LLP in Austin. “You can’t know right now what a child could be entitled to in the future. That will be a team decision based on a data review once instruction can resume. It is going to have to be so individualized for each [student].”
In the meantime, take these steps during the pandemic:
· Seek feedback from parents. Regularly ask parents what they are observing about their child’s behavior and learning at home, Witte said. “Find out what they are experiencing,” she says. “Collect information about what skills the student is maintaining, using, and exhibiting at home to have data that would be similar to the data that you collect at school. That’s going to be really helpful in figuring out what the kid’s progress is at this time—if he has maintained skills or has regressed.”
· Document your response to that information. Educators have to respond to that feedback, Witte says. And document the response. “That does open up a double-edged sword because once you start collecting data from what parents are seeing at home, you also need to make sure that you’re documenting how your district is responding to that information,” she says.
For example, if a parent says their child isn’t logging in when she is supposed to, educators must find out why that is and respond to that, Witte says. They might change the time the student is expected to log in or provide instruction through paper packets and phone calls instead.
In another example, if a student’s parents and speech-language pathologist see that her skills are regressing, the student may need two 30-minute sessions a week during the school closure instead of the one 30-minute session a week she received at school before the pandemic, Witte said. Document that you discussed the regression with the parents and that an increase in services was the response. “There’s so much we have to be flexible about right now,” she says. “We have to rely on what’s impacting students’ education, but the twist here is that education is happening at home now.”
Just remember that this would be a team decision. “If you change or increase the amount of service the student is getting during this time, you would need to do a virtual IEP meeting and an IEP amendment,” Witte says. “You wouldn’t do that as an ad hoc determination.”
· Promote patience. For students with more significant disabilities who require more hands-on intervention than can be taught to parents remotely through videoconferencing, such as mobility training for students with visual impairments, educators may need to solicit parents’ patience, Witte says. Discuss how students may be able to come back soon to school for services, but don’t necessarily discuss compensatory education quite yet.
“There may come a time when some services will be able to be provided in person to the students [with the greatest needs] once states relax stay-at-home orders, but, to the extent any child is owed something called compensatory education, that needs to be so individualized and is so up in the air, it is hard to share how districts should prepare right now for that,” she says. “It will really need to be an individualized determination.”
That determination will also have to take into consideration what, if any, further federal and state guidance districts receive, Witte adds. “It’s still the great unknown.”
Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. A link to the document mentioned above is available to subscribers.