Reasons not to refer to post-COVID-19 services as comp ed

Although special education teachers may want to refer to services to make up for shortfalls during school closures as compensatory education or compensatory services, a school attorney says the terms should be avoided.
By: | June 29, 2020
Photo by Ben White on UnsplashPhoto by Ben White on Unsplash

When special educators talk about the services that they will need to provide some students with disabilities to make up for shortfalls during school closures, they typically refer to them as “compensatory education” or “compensatory services.”

Even the U.S. Education Department used the term in its COVID-19 guidance. (See “Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children With Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, 76 IDELR 77 (EDU 2020)” and “Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elem., and Secondary Schs. While Serving Children with Disabilities, 76 IDELR 104 (OSERS/OCR 2020).”)

But there are reasons to consider to avoid using the terms compensatory education or compensatory services and instead use a more descriptive, appropriate moniker in its place, says Taylor Montgomery, a school attorney with Thompson Horton, LLP in Dallas. Montgomery explains that the concept of compensatory education was never intended to apply to the type of situations districts are experiencing due to COVID-19, where schools have been closed for months at a time at no fault of their own.

Instead, Montgomery uses the phrase “COVID-19 response services.” Here are two reasons why you may want to consider following suit.

1. ‘Comp ed’ suggests a district has done something wrong.

Compensatory education is a remedy applied by a hearing officer or court requiring a district to pay for or otherwise provide services it should have been providing all along. It serves as a way to compensate a student for past deficient education programs. Thus, the term carries with it the assumption that the district is at fault. But much of what has occurred during COVID-19 to deprive students of services, Montgomery observes, is out of districts’ control. Often, districts have made every effort to provide services to the extent that it was possible and safe to do so during the pandemic.

Montgomery says “COVID-19 response services” and similar terms better reflect the current situation. The term “acknowledges the hard work that districts have been doing to provide services to all students during this unprecedented time.”

2. Calling post-COVID services ‘comp ed’ could be divisive.

Calling these services “compensatory education” suggesting the district is at fault, could lead to increased friction and litigation. Montgomery points out that using a term like “COVID-19 response services” encourages a collaborative process in which districts and families can work together once school resumes to determine the best path to provide individual students with disabilities the services they need to continue making progress.

On the other hand, using “compensatory education” when talking about post-COVID services could foster an adversarial relationship between districts and parents instead of encouraging them to work together to navigate the best plan of action when school resumes, Montgomery said.

“Such a term ignores the tireless efforts of our school districts across the nation to do everything reasonably possible to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, despite inevitable obstacles caused by this public health crisis,” Montgomery says. Using a more positive designation, on the other hand, such as “COVID-19 response services,” could foster better relationships as educators and parents work together to ensure students receive the services they need.

Joseph L. Pfrommer, Esq., covers special education legal issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. Links to the documents mentioned above are available to subscribers.

DA’s full coverage of coronavirus and its education impacts can be found here