Parents were faced with a very difficult choice in fall 2020—send their child to school for face to face instruction or continue with virtual learning. These choices were very individual and influenced by a variety of considerations—much like your child’s IEP.
If you are one of those who chose to continue having your child learn virtually, read on so that you can make sure your child’s IEP includes some key statements to ensure that they are getting the most out of this new learning environment. While some of the details apply to parents in Texas, most of the information applies to any parents with a child in special ed who will continue virtual learning.
Know Your State’s Guidance
All the states have put forth some kind of guidance, make sure that you have read through it at least once and identified key statements for your situation.
In Texas, all the guidance links can be found here There is a lot of information here, and as a parent, you should be familiar with it. I have experienced districts completely misinterpreting even simple statements of state guidance and refusing parent requests because of their incorrect reading of the guidance—so make sure that you know for yourself what the state is saying. If there is a disagreement of opinion about this guidance, you can file a complaint which will result in TEA explaining whose view is correct.
I find this statement from TEA (Texas Education Agency) highly instructive:
FAPE is a constant and does not fluctuate (emphasis added) based on remote, synchronous or asynchronous, or in-person instruction. In instances where an LEA is not able to provide FAPE, the LEA needs to be highly communicative with the family, document all efforts to provide FAPE, and plan for how the impact of FAPE not being provided for a period of time will be mitigated through compensatory services at a later time.In these situations, the ARD committee would be required to make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory services are needed to make up for any skills that may have been lost when FAPE was not provided.
With TEA recommending the following action steps:
- Review the procedures that ensure each student with a disability has an IEP that is compliant.
- Take necessary steps to ensure that campus staff are reviewing IEP documents and provision of services to ensure that students are receiving FAPE.
- Take necessary steps to ensure that campus staff are including the consideration of compensatory services in ARD committee discussions.
- Review and adjust as needed, the procedures that campus staff will follow to document delivery of special education and related services.
- Review and adjust as needed, the procedures that campus staff will follow to document communication with families regarding efforts to provide FAPE?
- Review and adjust as needed, the procedures campus staff will follow to ensure that each student’s schedule aligns with the services described in the IEP.
- Ensure that staff access professional development at least annually regarding the ARD/IEP process.
.So it is very clear, at least to me reading through these state recommended action steps, that the district is supposed to be communicating and adjusting IEPs to accommodate the child’s situation.
Ongoing Virtual Instruction for 20-21 School Year versus Contingency Plans
One thing that was very common in the spring, was for the district to say, “Oh, we don’t know what’s happening, so we can only implement X, Y, and Z of his IEP that was designed for on-campus.” That was their contingency plan because no one knew if and when students would be allowed back on campus.
That’s not going to fly for parents choosing to keep their children in virtual learning for the 20-21 school year.
All of your child’s plan for this school year should be able to be implemented virtually. Period. It may mean having a meeting and changing some goals, possibly even adding goals that are specific to building your child’s skills so that they can be more independent in accessing virtual instruction.
What Your Child’s IEP Needs to Include
Make sure the minutes of the IEP documents the date that your child’s school began offering virtual instruction to general ed students in the spring. This is very important.
According to the federal government guidance, as soon as the district offered educational opportunities to the general ed students, they were required to provide FAPE to special ed students. Some districts are trying to say that as long as their physical buildings were closed, they weren’t required to provide FAPE. This is incorrect.
If a district was giving on-line instruction to general ed kids, they were required to provide FAPE. So make sure the date that began for your child’s school is documented in the minutes right next to the district’s Co-Vid statement.
Your child’s PLAAFP (present levels of academic achievement and functional performance) should contain a statement as to why virtual learning was chosen for the 20-21 school year and state what the potential negative impact could be. Make sure to include a statement that the person at home is not a trained teacher and thus lacks the skill to implement critical components of the IEP. The IEP should address how those critical components will be implemented.
The PLAAFP should include statements about any regression that you have documented with progress reports, data you’ve collected at home, and video of skill regression.
Your child’s goals should ALL be able to be implemented virtually. If there are some goals that can’t be, be sure to document that these goals were paused and will be reconsidered once the student resumes instruction on campus. Add goals that your child needs to build the skills that will allow them to better interact and navigate the virtual learning platform.
Have a very detailed discussion with the teacher about who will be taking data for those goals. If there are any goals that you need to take data for, make sure you have a clear agreement about when you will get those data sheets weekly. Request training on how to take data for those goals. That training should include the teacher modeling how to take data AND her observing you taking the data real time and offering corrective feedback.
Are there parts of the goals that need to be implemented by you at home?
If so, make sure you clearly and directly request training on how to implement this. Also clearly request a detailed lesson plan from the teacher to be given to you by Sunday evening.
To be clear: Implementing a goal is NOT you randomly picking an activity from a 100 page document of a variety of activities that has been sent to every parent. Implementing the goals should look like following a teacher or related service provider’s detailed instructions for specific activities linked to specific goals. The parent at home, unless they are a certified special ed teacher, is acting as a paraprofessional. Paraprofessionals are not allowed to provide initial direct instruction for IEP goals. All of their activities should be done under teacher supervision–these means a lot more communication with the classroom teacher(s).
This training and support are especially important for behavior goals and data collection. Make sure that the BIP (behavior intervention plan) lists you as a co-implementor and that you completely understand the various strategies that are listed in the BIP as well as when and how to implement them.
As you will most likely be implementing the accommodations, you should include a statement about the amount of training you need to correctly implement them. Especially if your child has a visual schedule, make sure to request a detailed schedule for those times of the day when direct instruction is not happening. That schedule should include specific, individualized activities related to your child’s IEPs or their abilities. Again, this should not be a 100 activity packet of activities from which you randomly choose.
Supplemental aides and services should include a statement of the frequency of the training and support from the teacher to implement goals and accommodations.
Make sure that all Related Services—speech, OT, PT (haha—like anyone in Texas actually receives PT in the school setting), counseling, music therapy, nursing, vision support, hearing services, ABA related services are all in place and the related goals can be implemented virtually.
In the discussion about compensatory time, this key point of guidance from TEA needs to be kept in mind:
If the student’s data show that the student has lost progress, then the ARD committee must consider and, as applicable, include in the student’s IEP the type, location, duration, and frequency of the services the student needs to make up for that lost progress. The decision must be made based on data regarding student progress and should not be misconstrued to necessarily require an hour for hour or minute for minute makeup in services.
This means that you will be able to negotiate the type of compensatory time. Compensatory time needs to make sense by addressing the specific area(s) of regression. If it’s academic regression, that could look like some kind of tutoring. If it’s behavioral regression, then that could look like additional counseling or interventions and supervision with the behavioral staff at the school. If it’s social regression, then perhaps a social skills camp of some kind. If it’s in the area of a related service, then more related service time is appropriate.
You may need help in getting compensatory time, because the schools are most likely going to be very reluctant to offer very many compensatory services. TEA has made it very clear that offering ESY is not the same as offering compensatory time.
If you feel like you are getting the run around or being denied your requests, make sure to get advocacy support. A lot of districts are making up things that are not along the guidance being given right now. And parents are the only ones who can hold them accountable by filing complaints, mediation or due process.
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