"Ask the Advocate" is our forum to bring you answers to questions that are timely and important to families of students with disabilities. Each month I will ask Lorraine Hightower, Dyslexia Advocate and Consultant, your top questions and bring her answers to YOU!
Question: Can you explain how COVID-19 is affecting our school systems and, more specifically, the students you serve?
COVID-19 has created a crisis in our educational system. Every stakeholder in education feels it; teachers, administrators, parents, and especially our children. Teachers have rallied and created distance learning platforms practically overnight; working overtime to make sure that “their kids” don’t get left behind educationally and retain a connection to their classroom family. But many parents of students with disabilities can’t help but see the gaps between what needs to be done and what is being done for their children.
Students with disabilities are in peril right now. We know that many of these students have educational gaps of 3 or even 4 years! These students were experiencing an educational crisis long before COVID-19. Now many of their services have been cut by hours each week. If students are not receiving the supports and services that are outlined in their IEPs now, their gaps will only grow and compensatory services will be needed in the future.
Question: What is the school system expected to provide at this time? Are they still required to fulfill a student’s IEP or 504 Plan through distance learning?
Yes. All schools are still required to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) at this time. In fact, the US Department of Education recently provided a fact sheet with guidance for schools. It states, “To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.” The Virginia Department of Education has recently reaffirmed that “to the greatest extent possible, the school division must provide the student with the services required by the student’s IEP”.
Special education teams need to look at each child’s IEP and see which services and supports are functionally possible. For example, a student who requires PT or OT services at this time will not be able to procure those services due to rules of social distancing. However, many of my clients who receive specialized reading remediation services can still get those services on an online platform. Special education teams that I have collaborated with have come up with creative ways to serve these students such as creating virtual meetings with teachers and children in small groups or one on one. Asynchronous teaching can also occur by providing students with access to online resources. Accommodations that are fitting of the current situation should also still be provided according to a student’s IEP. Students should be receiving speech to text accommodations, extra time on assignments, or calculator use, while preferential seating would not apply. We have to think of ways to do things differently, but not provide less.
Another important reminder for parents is that students are expected to show progress during this last quarter of school. When school systems decided to teach new material to general education students, they set in to place an expectation of progress. This expectation also applies to students with disabilities as well. That means progress on IEP goals should be monitored and gains should be made.
Question: What should I do if my child’s Temporary Distance Learning Plan (TDLP) does not provide the supports and services they need to make progress this quarter?
If you are not satisfied with your child’s TDLP, I encourage you to reconvene your child’s special education team. Collaborate with them to find ways to creatively serve your child. Providing specially designed instruction now for your child is a win for everyone. Your child will continue to grow and gain confidence in their skills and abilities. The school district will avoid having to provide compensatory services for any continuing educational gaps. More importantly, you will have the peace of mind of knowing that your child is getting the education that fits their unique needs.
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