The US Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), in response to requests from a diverse group of stakeholders, has issued new guidance for interpreting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), in particular relating to the challenges of COVID-19 and schools returning to in-person instruction and services.
The guidance document, titled Return to School Roadmap, is intended to clarify the rights of children and families as schools reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it restates that children with disabilities are entitled to FAPE (free appropriate public education), and that infants and toddlers with disabilities are entitled to appropriate IDEA Part C services. The guidance offers input on how school districts can modify IEPs to address many of the issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It makes clear that local or state laws or policies cannot override or prohibit certain measures, such as mask wearing, being made a part of a child’s IEP, which would be a violation of IDEA.
The new guidance addresses issues related to meeting timelines, initial evaluation and reevaluation procedures, eligibility for special education and related services, and school districts providing the full array of services that children with disabilities need. The guidance stresses that school districts and IEP teams must take into account the needs of students with disabilities who are at risk of illness from COVID-19, and if necessary incorporate measures such as mask wearing or cleaning into the child’s IEP.
The Return to School Roadmap is written in a question and answer format and is organized into 8 sections which address ensuring that IEPs are in effect at the start of the school year, convening of the IEP team and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected that, consideration of special factors such as a child needing assistive technology or positive behavioral interventions or supports, and determining appropriate annual goals and the need for compensatory services. It also addresses making extended school year (ESY) determinations, the consideration of secondary transition services, educational placement decisions, and resolving disagreements between parents and school districts regarding a child’s educational program.
Parents, caregivers and families are encouraged to review the Return to School Roadmap to get a better understanding of your rights and the rights of your child as you navigate through this school year. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services also urges in this new guidance document that parents and caregivers contact the state’s parent training and information center (PTI), and in Mississippi that would be our fellow family-run organization, the Mississippi Parent and Training Information Center.
Parents and caregivers are also always welcome to contact Families as Allies at 601-355-0915 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about your child’s rights or about this new guidance. And you can also bring your concerns or questions to our Drop-In Family Support Time hour this Thursday, Oct. 7th at 12 noon, or our Bring Your IEP and Other School Questions hour on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 12 noon. You don’t have to register–you can just drop in for all or part of the meeting!