Offering ‘flexible instruction’ instead of snow days? Don’t forget about IDEA compliance.

Schools in Pennsylvania now have the option to use “flexible instructional days” in place of snow days. Here are key considerations for schools to implement these programs in compliance with the IDEA and Section 504
By: | November 4, 2019

Instead of a snow day this year, schools in Pennsylvania may apply for up to five “flexible instructional days” to deliver instruction online, offline, or through a combination when inclement weather or other circumstances prevent regular instruction.

Districts that apply must ensure that the program will be implemented in compliance with the IDEA.

According to the guidance provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, an IEP team should convene prior to implementing a flexible instructional day to determine how best to meet a student’s needs and to determine what supports or alternate means may be employed to meet the participation requirement. “Failure to do so may result in the student being awarded compensatory education,” the PDOE stated.

“There are several moving parts to this that school boards are currently grappling with,” said William J. Zee, school attorney with Barley Snyder in Pennsylvania. “The first year is going to be the most difficult, but I think we’ll see an evolution as IEP teams gain the experience going forward,” he said.

Schools in Pennsylvania are not required to use technology to deliver instruction during these days, but if they choose to do so, they may benefit from looking at guidance on this topic developed by other states, said Kalani E Linnell, also an attorney with Barley Snyder. For example, see Indiana’s eLearning Day Program Guidance for Students with Disabilities.

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With more states replacing inclement weather days with distance learning, schools in these states should ensure planning includes these considerations for students with disabilities, said Linnell and Zee:

  • Include special education in the development team. “Because this program will impact all kids, the special education population needs to be included from the beginning,” Zee said. Consider how the team will receive input from special ed groups and staff such as special educators, psychologists, school nurses, and paraeducators.
  • Pretrain IEP teams, parents and students. Training should take place before implementation begins, Zee said. “IEP teams need to consider how specially designed instruction will be provided and families may need additional pretraining to know how to meet students’ needs,” Linnell said. Students themselves may also require pre-teaching to anticipate what will happen on these days, she said. “In a special ed context, that could be considered part of a district’s duty to provide related services which can include parent and student training,” Linnell said.
  • Plan out maximum number of lessons needed. Schools in Pennsylvania were required to submit applications with lesson exemplars by Sept. 1 with their applications to participate in the FID program. “Schools need to take into account how those lessons will be adjusted for students with IEPs,” Linnell said. Providing FAPE may look different for students with disabilities, Zee said. For instance, rather than sending a lesson home online, an FID activity might include transition planning with parents at home.
  • Consider impact on related services, draft flexibility into IEP. Within the IEP team, anticipate how these days may impact provision of related services, Zee said. “If we need to make adjustments on the fly, it’s important to provide that flexibility in the IEP,” Zee said. For example, rather than stating, “30-minute sessions three days per regularly scheduled week,” consider writing, “90 minutes delivered in sessions lasting at least 30 minutes every regularly scheduled week.”
  • Ensure technology is accessible. Consider whether the technology a student requires to participate in FID lessons will be accessible, Linnell said. A school could violate Section 504 if a student with a disability is unable to participate because of inaccessible technology. Also ensure parents are trained on how to assist students who use adaptive technologies, she said.
  • Debrief and incorporate feedback at annual IEP meetings. After an FID, as a team, ask: How did it go? “It’ll be important that schools are flipping that feedback from stakeholders and making improvements going forward,” Linnell said.

Jennifer Herseim is an editor for LRP Media Group and program chair for Inclusion and Special Education at DA’s Future of Education Technology Conference.

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