Special Education During the Pandemic:

Know Your Child's Rights


Photo courtesy of The Arc

There is no denying that COVID-19 has been particularly disruptive to nearly 7 million children with special needs across the country. It’s important for parents to understand that schools must still provide their children with special education even during the pandemic. Under federal law, every child, regardless of need, is entitled to a “free, appropriate public education.” With the fall semester in full swing amid the ongoing pandemic, here are five facts to know:

FACT #1: To date, the U.S. Department of Education has declined to make any changes to The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) due to the pandemic or the closures resulting from it.

ADVICE: Experts say parents should fight for the services their kids need. Parents have the right to fight for the best individualized educational environment for the child including in-classroom, virtual or a combination. The only way a school district can be excused for fulfilling their obligation of special education is if the family refused its services. It’s up to the district to figure out how to make it work, even during the pandemic. Under the federal law, a lack of funding for special education is not a legal excuse for a district.

FACT #2: Just like with IDEA, the laws surrounding individualized education programs (IEPs) remain unchanged regardless of whether education occurs in the classroom or virtually.

ADVICE: The guide “Special Education and Related Services During the 2020-21 School Year” was released by the Oklahoma State Department of Education after the pandemic hit. It states that a student’s IEP can be revised due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. If some in-person services such as physical or occupational therapy are not available now, set an agreement for when the service can resume.

FACT #3: Schools and vocational rehabilitation agencies are responsible to work together to help students with disabilities transition to adulthood, including providing pre-employment transition services even amid the pandemic.

ADVICE: The IEP for each student with a disability must address transition services requirements beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP team, and must be updated annually thereafter. The IEP must include: (1) appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and (2) the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the student with a disability in reaching those goals).

FACT #4: IDEA allows parents to seek compensatory services if students with disabilities do not receive the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled.

ADVICE: Experts say parents should remind schools of this now as a means to get services back on track rather than waiting for the pandemic to end and seeking compensatory services at that time.

FACT #5: The number of special education lawsuits are growing during the pandemic. Hundreds of families have signed on to lawsuits alleging that schools and state education departments are illegally denying children the services spelled out in their federally mandated IEPs.

ADVICE: If a school district is not meeting requirements and efforts between parents and school prove unsuccessful, parents can seek IDEA’s three dispute resolution mechanisms: mediation, state complaint and due process complaint procedures. Due process should be the last resort as legal costs are considerable.

TARC has become The Arc of Oklahoma, a state chapter of The Arc, a national advocacy nonprofit promoting and protecting the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. The Arc of Oklahoma provides a family support program offering special education and IEP assistance to families at no cost. Services are also available in Spanish. For more information, please contact Sherilyn at swalton@ddadvocacy.net.

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Note: Register now for The Arc of Oklahoma’s Special Education webinar series in October 2020. Find more information here.

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