3 considerations before green-lighting long-term remote learning

In many states, students require some sort of medical certification to even qualify for homebound instruction
By: | April 6, 2021
(AdobeStock/master1305)(AdobeStock/master1305)

A parent of a student with a Section 504 plan in the district tells the 504 coordinator that since her child has been participating in remote learning due to the pandemic, they has been thriving. Being at home has enabled them to focus on their schoolwork, and as a result, they’ve been excelling academically, she says.

The parent would like to change his placement from in classroom to homebound so he can continue learning at home when in-person learning resumes.

How should you respond?

The first step is to determine if parents are requesting a homebound placement due to a medical need, or simply that they would prefer the student to participate in a remote or virtual learning option, said Brandon Wright, a school attorney at Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd., in Monticello, Illinois.

“Are we referring to a student who medically should remain homebound?” he said. “Or are we talking about a student for whom we need to accommodate that anxiety in some way?”

In many states, students require some sort of medical certification to even qualify for homebound instruction, he said. So, if this is a situation without a medical need, here are two points an IEP or 504 team might want to consider in responding to the parent’s request.

Least restrictive environment considerations

There are least restrictive environment considerations factored into remote learning, Wright said.

Within the realm of case law, different schools of thought regarding LRE and remote learning exist. On one hand, the student who participates in remote learning has the potential to be more isolated, especially if he is doing asynchronous virtual learning.

On the other hand, some say that counts as the student participating with his general education peers because although there is no interaction, a general education student doing remote learning gets the same experience.

If the team determines that participating in long-term remote learning is best for the student, there will be some issues that will have to be unpacked over time as they relate to the LRE, Wright said.

One point of discussion during the pandemic has been the idea that a student learning remotely with his general education peers might actually be in his LRE, as opposed to going to school in person, where he might be learning with only other special education students on campus.

“I think that has certainly been a concern that has come up,” Wright said. “Frankly, a lot of parents have been happy to look the other way on LRE issues because they were getting in-person services, and to them that was more important than the LRE factor at that time.”

However, as districts move back to in-person learning for all students, these LRE conversations might resurface, he said. Parents might have been OK with it during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean they will necessary accept it going forward.

Transition skills and social-emotional learning

While virtual learning may sound better in the short term and the student may be more successful with it, over time it may keep the student from learning the social-emotional and coping skills necessary for her to be successful as an adult, Wright said.

“From a transition services lens, at some point we have to think about, ‘How do we teach social skills in a virtual program?'” he said. Teachers and administrators have been expressing concern about how to educate students in a remote setting long term, because they don’t know how to teach social skills when the student is at home, he said.

“The social-emotional learning piece is so important,” he said. “It will be easy to give a student academic work and them be successful. But for students with disabilities, we have to think not just about academic success, but social-emotional learning as a part of transition. Transition services can’t be overlooked.”

Florence Simmons covers Section 504, paraprofessionals, and transportation for LRP Publications.