School Is Out; Now What? Special Education During COVID-19 Response

Schools are closing across Connecticut in an effort to slow the pace of the coronavirus pandemic.  The federal Department of Education has issued “Question and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus.”  So, what do parents need to know?

If your school is closed, the federal Department of Education is saying that schools are not required to provide special education services to children with disabilities during the closure.  However, upon return, individualized assessments will be needed.  The Q&A states “. . . an IEP Team and, as appropriate to an individual student with a disability, the personnel responsible for ensuring FAPE [free appropriate public education] to a student for the purposes of Section 504, would be required to make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory services are needed under applicable standards and requirements.”

If your school is not completely closed, and is providing regular education students with education through alternative means, like online or “distance” learning, children with disabilities have the right to equal access and to receive a free appropriate public education.  Remember, your child’s IEP is what guides what constitutes a free appropriate public education for your child.  Your school will need to consider the particular requirements for your child and develop a plan to ensure that your child receives a free appropriate public education.  If you aren’t sure what your child should be receiving, contact an attorney for help.

If school is in session and your child is out of school for an extended period of time due to illness, homebound instruction may be warranted.  In Connecticut, homebound instruction must be provided when a child, whether already identified as a special education student or not, is unable to attend school due to a verified medical condition.  A verified medical condition is based on a statement from the child’s physician written directly to the board on a form provided by the board stating:

  1. The physician has consulted with school health supervisory personnel and determined that attendance with reasonable accommodations is not feasible;
  2. Child is unable to attend school due to a verified medical reason;
  3. Child’s diagnosis with supporting documentation;
  4. Child will be absent from school for at least 10 consecutive days OR absent for short, repeated periods of time throughout the school year; and
  5. Expected date of return to school.

For more information on homebound instruction, you can read the full Connecticut regulation here.

Another important part of the Q&A is guidance on children at high risk for severe medical complications. The Q&A indicates that schools can unilaterally decide to exclude a child who is at high risk of severe medical complications from COVID-19 and that this would not be a change in placement if the exclusion is for 10 days or less.  If the exclusion is for more than 10 days, this constitutes a change in placement and parents are entitled to a meeting, prior written notice, and the procedural protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

As more information comes to light, we will continue to post information on educating children with disabilities.