• Jessica Lenhart

What is an Individual "Distance Learning Plan" in New Jersey?

Updated: Sep 20


What is a

"Distance Learning Plan" and

Should New Jersey Schools Have One?


The term “distance learning plan,” as it relates to special education during the Coronavirus

pandemic, appeared in March of 2020 when it was used in guidance issued by the United States Department of Education (US DOE). The New Jersey Department of Education (NJ DOE) has not issued any formal guidance on the inclusion of “distance learning plans,” or “remote learning plans” in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). So, the short answer is “no,” an individual distance learning plan is not a required document for a special education student in New Jersey. And, as discussed below, a student’s IEP, and right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) remains intact during remote learning. IEP’s must be implemented “to the greatest extent possible,” during remote learning, whether that remote learning is hybrid or full-time, and whether it is due to school closure or because of parent choice. IEPs cannot be replaced with alternative “distance learning plans,” even for a temporary period.


Background on “Distance Learning Plans”


The US DOE mentioned distance learning plans in its March 2020 document entitled Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak. The guidance did not require them. While some states have since issued specific distance learning plan requirements, they are optional under federal guidance.


In Question A-5, the US DOE stated:


“May an IEP Team consider a distance learning plan in a child’s IEP as a contingency plan in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak that requires the school’s closure? Answer: Yes.

IEP teams may, but are not required to, include distance learning plans in a child’s IEP that

could be triggered and implemented during a selective closure due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Such contingent provisions may include the provision of special education and related services at an alternate location or the provision of online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, and may identify which special education and related services, if any, could be provided at the child’s home. Creating a contingency plan before a COVID-19 outbreak occurs gives the child’s service providers and the child’s parents an opportunity to reach agreement as to what circumstances would trigger the use of the child’s distance learning plan and the services that would be provided during the dismissal.”


As already noted, there is no specific guidance on distance learning plans in New Jersey.

Individualized distance learning plans for students with disabilities are not mentioned in The

Road Back Plan, nor other state guidance.


Tips for IEP teams in New Jersey


Despite the lack of state-level, specific legal guidance, in our view, it is wise for New Jersey IEP teams (which, of course, always include the parents) to document in writing, within the IEP, how the IEP will be implemented during remote instruction. This ensures that everyone on the IEP team has a shared understanding of how the implementation of the IEP might change during remote instruction.


In contrast to specifying within the IEP how it will be implemented during remote instruction if your school district proposes to create a distance learning plan separate from a student’s IEP, keep in mind that such plan is probably NOT proper if it is proposed as some kind of alternative to a student’s IEP that goes into effect during remote learning. A student’s IEP remains in full effect during remote learning and, as mentioned above, must be implemented to the greatest extent possible; this remains true if parents opt for remote instruction by choice.


Here are just some examples of things that might need to be specified, in writing, about IEP

implementation during remote instruction versus in-person instruction:

  1. what related services will be provided via video, by who and when (remote instruction may necessitate increased or additional related services to prevent regression and ensure progress;

  2. the details about any distinct modifications such as increased verbal or visual prompts and when/how they will be used during video instruction (e.g. in lieu of hand-over-hand prompts or other gentle cues provided in-person);

  3. any additional technology or assistive technology that will be provided in support of remote instruction;

  4. any additional parent training (a related service) provided to support the implementation of the IEP remotely, who will provide the parent training, when and how;

  5. any increases to the duration and frequency of related services via video that may be needed to prevent regression due to the lack of in-person supports;

  6. clarification of any changes to counseling or behavior goals when shifting to remote implementation of the IEP.

Taking all this into consideration, in the coming weeks, it is vitally important for parents and

school districts to connect and communicate about a student’s current IEP. If an IEP will be implemented via a “remote instruction” model, whether hybrid or 100% of the time, teams should consider whether the IEP contains enough specific language about how the IEP will be implemented during remote instruction. If an IEP does not address remote learning, an IEP team meeting may be warranted.


The Advo-Kids team shares the concerns of parents and educators struggling to plan

for the 2020-2021 school year. We are available to assist IEP teams with productive communication and the development of appropriate IEPs. We welcome your comments, questions or concerns about this topic. Contact us at jlenhart@posternockapell.com.


© 2020 Advo-Kids, “All Rights Reserved.”

This material 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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