In response to requests from a diverse group of stakeholders, the US Department of Education recently provided states with two new guidance documents intended to make clear what the expectations and requirements are for implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), especially in light of the many challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although the department had previously issued guidance last October about this, stakeholders have asked about delayed evaluations and delayed services for infants and toddlers with disabilities, and timelines, eligibility and special education and related services.
The purpose of these two new guidance documents is to support the “full implementation” of IDEA requirements as states and school districts reopen schools and children resume in-person learning. The two documents address a number of issues and a range of topics related to what “children with disabilities need in order to receive a free appropriate public education.” One guidance document addresses Child Find, and the other focuses on early intervention services.
Return to School Roadmap: Child Find, Referral, and Eligibility Under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) restates the importance of Child Find and its obligations to states and school districts, early intervention service providers and parents and other stakeholders. Child Find is a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Act and its purpose is to identify, locate and evaluate all children from birth through 21 years of age who may have disabilities and who also may need early intervention or special education services. The guidance emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive Child Find system.
As a result of Child Find referrals falling during the COVID-19 pandemic, states are encouraged to refocus their child find efforts, and the guidance suggests that states identify which districts had the biggest decrease in referrals, and to consider additional public awareness activities in those districts to address that decrease. It also instructs states to examine “equity issues that may exist in the child find identification process” even if those issues predated the pandemic.
Return to School Roadmap: Provision of Early Intervention Services for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and Their Families under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is also intended to provide guidance to states and early intervention service providers and recognizes the problems and complications caused by the “generally home-based nature of IDEA Part C services” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early intervention services are designed to connect all eligible infants and toddlers to services that meet their developmental needs, their family’s needs, and to help in the infant’s or toddler’s development. Services could include, for example, assistive technology, occupational or physical therapy, special instruction or psychological services. (A complete list of covered services can be found on pages 8-9 of this document). And early intervention services are required to use family-centered approaches to promote the active engagement of families in decision-making related to their child and to support families in achieving the goals they have selected for their child and family.
Families have faced many challenges related to the pandemic, and these challenges can impact their ability to support the needs of their child and to access the services that their child needs. The guidance recommends that states build a strong and equitable system to address the issue of American Indian, Alaska Native and Black or African American infants and toddlers being less likely to be screened, referred for services and served than all other groups combined.
It suggests that with funding from the American Rescue Plan, it is now time for states to implement Child Find and early intervention services infrastructure changes and improve their data systems to help identify and measure equity challenges.
Finally, the guidance recognizes how important parents and other family members are to supporting a child’s development, and that they need to be fully informed when asked to make sound decisions about their child’s early intervention services. It points parents who would like more support in understanding IDEA’s requirements to local Parent Training Institutes (PTIs). In Mississippi, that would be our fellow family-run organization, the Mississippi Parent and Training Information Center (MSPTI).
Parents, caregivers and families are encouraged to review these documents to get a better understanding of your rights and the rights of your child as you navigate through this school year.
As always, you are welcome to contact Families as Allies at 601-355-0915 or email us at email@example.com if you have questions about your child’s rights or about either of these guidance documents. You can also bring your concerns or questions to our Bring Your IEP and Other School Questions hour Thursday, Nov. 18 at 12 noon. You don’t have to register–you can just drop in for all or part of the meeting!