When private school students, there because of the pandemic, return

4 actions school districts should take when parents of a student with disabilities who has been enrolled in a private school due to COVID decide to send the child back to public school
By: | January 11, 2021
Getty Images, Sally AnscombeGetty Images, Sally Anscombe

As remote learning continues in many schools because of the pandemic, parents of students with disabilities who attend private school may decide it would be more practical to return their child to his neighborhood public school for remote or hybrid learning.

In such a case, the district has an obligation to convene an IEP meeting and develop an appropriate IEP for a student who reenrolls in public school. 34 CFR 300.324 (b); Letter to Goldman, 53 IDELR 97 (OSEP 2009).

In other words, the persistence of the pandemic can not prevent a district from offering the student FAPE.

“For the vast majority of purposes, the IDEA still applies and districts should know what to do when a request comes in once a student reenrolls in public school,” says Frank Barile, a school attorney at Guercio & Guercio LLP in Latham, N.Y., adding that COVID is like a “wild card.”

“I think it’s important to find out how it impacted that student,” Barile says. “The [IEP team] has to listen to the parents.”

Take these actions if a private school student with a disability aims to reenroll in the district, says Barile:

  1. Communicate with the district of location. Seek parental consent, if necessary in the state, to reach out to the district where the student’s private school is located and that had been responsible for the student’s IEP or services plan. Get a copy of the student’s IEP or services plan and other education records.
  2. Convene an IEP meeting. Meet with the parents to discuss whether collecting updated information is necessary to determine what services the student needs to receive. If the parents request an evaluation and it has been more than a year since the student’s previous one, or the records you have are not sufficient to make determinations about the student’s needs, plan to conduct an evaluation. If it has been more than three years since the student was last evaluated, conduct an evaluation. If the student was evaluated within the past year, and the parents do not share any new concerns, you may not need to update the evaluation after reviewing all the student’s records. “That may be a perfectly fine decision if the parents are not bringing up any additional concerns,” Barile says.
  3. Consider COVID-19 effects. Even if the student was evaluated within the past year, you may want to dig deeper to determine if the child requires any new services on account of the continuing pandemic. Find out from the parents and the district of location how long the student had learned remotely through the private school and if the student missed any services while school buildings were closed to students. Discuss whether the student lost any skills. He may require additional services to what are delineated in his IEP or services plan.
  4. Review existing contingency plan. Gain access to the student’s contingency plan if the district where the private school is located created one for the student to address how he would receive services while learning remotely. Look at what accommodations the student was supposed to receive and how his related services were supposed to be delivered. “It would not necessarily be legally binding on the district of residence, but it would guide you,” Barile says. “You want to get your hands on anything created to assist teachers or related service providers in how to best provide remote services to the student.” Even if the district of location didn’t implement the plan, don’t ignore it. Consider its contents. Ask the parents why they think certain services were included.

Cara Nissman covers autism, school psychology, and IEP team issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. The document referenced above is available to subscribers.