• Jessica Lenhart

COVID-19 Brings A New Type of FAPE, for now…



For nearly a month, we have been bombarded with COVID-19 updates. As parents and former educators ourselves, the Advo-Kids team understands how impossible it feels right now to keep up with school updates, current events, working from home, teaching your child at home and just adjusting to our current reality, aka the “new normal.” In an effort to lighten your load, we have closely followed the latest updates on special education in New Jersey. Here are three things we know about special education in New Jersey, for right now, and some practical tips to keep in mind.


Starting with the most recent New Jersey news:

1. Schools in New Jersey shall provide supports and services in a student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible,” and may use electronic, remote or on-line technology to do so.


On April 1, 2020 The NJ State Board of Education officially approved a temporary change to the state special education regulations. The emergency change permits the provision of special education and related services via telehealth, telemedicine, electronic, virtual or on-line technology, during “public health emergencies,” such as the current COVID-19 closure. You can read the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJ DOE) Guidance about the change here:


https://www.nj.gov/education/broadcasts/2020/apr/3/Providing%20Special%20Education%20and%20Related%20Services%20to%20Students%20with%20Disabilities%20During%20School%20Closures%20as%20a%20Result%20of%20COVID-19.pdf 

While the temporary rule change specifically authorizes the provision of Related Services on-line, the guidance does NOT discuss how, exactly, services like occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), speech and language (SL) or other special supports and related services may or should be offered. The temporary rule states they shall be provided, “as appropriate and as required by the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible.”


2. The NJ DOE emphasizes that on-line education may not be able to provide FAPE (a Free Appropriate Public Education), but; services must be individualized, “as appropriate” and “as required” by the student’s IEP.The DOE’s guidance states: “It is important to note that these rule modifications alone do not ensure that school districts and educational agencies will meet their obligation to provide FAPE. These rule modifications are intended to provide IEP teams with the flexibility necessary to implement services during unprecedented school closures.” The guidance memo goes on to emphasize the importance of parents and schools working together to maintain open “lines of communication.”


3. The possibility of compensatory education for students who could not access appropriate education during the closure or who exhibit regression has not been ruled out- at this point.


Guidance from the NJ DOE states:

Home instruction/services shall be consistent with the student’s Individualized Education Plan Program (IEP) to the most appropriate extent possible. Districts should talk to parents, who are key members of the IEP team, and help them consider how they may best ensure that students with disabilities have the necessary supports, including medical supports, in place during a public health-related school closure. Consultation with the parents should explore how students with disabilities will gain equitable access to home instruction… IEP teams may need to consider compensatory services when students return to school and IEPs may need to be adjusted accordingly. The IEP team should determine the amount of compensatory related services students with IEPs may require, on a case-by-case basis, when school resumes.”


https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf

While compensatory education has not been ruled out, there is no current assurance that compensatory education will definitely or automatically be provided to all students whose IEPs cannot be fully implemented during the closures. There is no current guidance or a framework for how this will be determined in each case. The above guidance allows for flexibility in the review of the need for compensatory education rather than automatic entitlement during the pandemic. Keep in mind that the guidance could change. To be sure, this will be passionately debated by all stakeholders in the coming weeks and months.


https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/politics/special-education-coronavirus.html


So, where do these updates leave parents trying to support their disabled children at home and the special educators working to provide support? More than ever, we need to work together.


Here are a few tips to keep in mind as we continue remote education:


Stay connected and collaborative with your IEP team!

  • As the NJ DOE guidance states, IEP teams may need or want to discuss how to “best ensure” that a student is “appropriately” supported. Parents and school staff should be communicating regularly about what is and is not working. The rule change does not require that a formal IEP meeting occur to revise the current IEP in place. However, in many cases parents and schools may be well-advised to create an interim IEP addendum or at least use e-mail to confirm a mutual understanding about how a student’s remote learning will be implemented.

Plan and Prepare for virtual meetings!

  • Become familiar with the terms of your child’s or student’s IEP

  • Prepare for virtual meetings to ensure things run smoothly: share questions, concerns, documents or notes you’ll reference ahead of time with all team members (both parent and school team members)

  • Notify each other ahead of time who will attend and their role with the child, this is especially important for virtual meetings

  • Include your child to the extent possible, especially if they are 14+ years old.

Document!

  • Parents, share work samples (including pictures or videos) from home learning with team members who no longer have the benefit of seeing student personally. This will go far in helping the team problem solve and discuss options for adjusting instruction and supports.

  • While some traditional progress monitoring the IEP was using in school might not be feasible during remote instruction, progress monitoring is no less important. Parents and educators should continue to track progress, document what is observed in the child/student and what interventions are tried. To this end, some NJ districts are providing parents with their preferred progress tracking data sheets (terrific!). So, parents, first check if your district has a preferred format. If you’ve not received a progress tracking template:

  • Avoid feeling defeated.Please do not assume an in-home support will not work or engage your student, do some trial and error and document yours and your child’s attempts. You got this!


To help, Advo-Kids has created a progress notes page for you, check it out here: https://www.advo-kids.com/printable-toolbox 

© 2020 Advo-Kids, “All Rights Reserved.” This article is for educational purposes only; it does not provide legal advice. Please be advised that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Advo-Kids or this author. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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