IEPs & 504 Plans

Adjusting Your Child’s IEP or 504 Plan for Distance Learning

Your child’s IEP or 504 Plan was not designed for distance learning. But here we are. And now it falls on parents and educators to make new accommodations for students with ADHD and other learning challenges when they’re outside the classroom. Here are common challenges in 2020, and advice from learning expert and advocate Susan Yellin, Esq.

distance learning
Distance learning online education. A schoolboy studies at home and does school homework. A home distance learning.

IEP for Distance Learning: Can We Still Get a School Aide?

Q: “My daughter is in inclusive classes but receives help from an in-class aide. How can I be sure her Individualized Education Program (IEP) is followed in her blended model this fall — two days in person and three days at home? Her IEP made a world of difference.”

Q: “My daughter went from having a 1:1 aide at school with support from a resource specialist to home schooling, with one hour a week of instruction and lots of assignments we had to do at home. She is very inattentive and non-responsive in Zoom sessions. School will reopen in distance learning format again. How should I ask the school to support my daughter? Who will take the place of her 1:1 aide and how will they be able support her online? What should I as a parent ask for?”

These two families face somewhat different issues; one has a daughter who will be attending school part-time and the other has a daughter who will have no in-person instruction and only limited online instruction, with lots of home assignments. But the answers to their questions are very much the same.

Both children should be receiving the services and supports that are provided in their IEPs. Back in March 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued guidance to states and local governments, setting out the responsibilities of schools during the pandemic. Once schools are operating, the DOE requires that schools “must make every effort to provide special education and related services” in accordance with the child’s IEP or 504 Plan. The DOE guidance clearly states that only if schools are completely closed and no education is provided to any students (with or without an IEP or 504 Plan) is a school excused from providing IEP/504 services.

What does this mean for these students? The girl who has part-time in-class instruction should be having an in-class aide for the two days each week that she is in school. For both girls, their district should endeavor to replicate the support that an aide would provide during days she is learning virtually, possibly by having an aide come to their home when their daughter is learning remotely, or by having an aide working with her virtually to support her as she works with her regular teacher and her classmates online.

[Related Reading: Your Child’s Educational Rights While Crisis Schooling: IEPs and 504 Plans in a Pandemic]

Their parents should reach out to their daughters’ case manager or IEP chairperson to clarify how the school will continue to implement her IEP and provide her with FAPE, the Free Appropriate Public Education that the IDEA requires. If you are not satisfied with what the school is offering, you should be aware that the DOE recognizes that “there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided.” However, if the provisions of an IEP/504 Plan cannot be fully implemented, the IEP/504 Team should make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory (make up) services may be needed for a particular student.

IEP for Distance Learning: Can We Still Get Educational Testing?

Q: “My son was approved for IEP testing at the end of last school year but since we will continue with distance learning, testing will once again get delayed. My son really struggled with distance learning and we were hoping the testing would help shed light on why he is struggling and what accommodations we need to put in place to help level the playing field for his learning. In the absence of testing, how do we advocate and help our son have a successful school year?”

Many students find that distance learning is difficult and are struggling with this new format. But it sounds like your son was having issues with his learning for a while, which makes having him evaluated to understand his difficulties important no matter what form his schooling takes right now.

It may not be necessary to postpone educational testing for your son. Many of the educational tests that a school psychologist would give to determine his strengths and challenges and help shape his IEP can be given virtually. In addition, some private testing centers have re-opened on a limited basis, with full health and safety precautions, and can do in-person Independent Educational Evaluations (IEEs) to share with your school.

[Read: 8 Secrets to Engaged Online Learning for Students with ADHD]

I would suggest starting by contacting your son’s school and asking if they can conduct his testing remotely. Some school districts will not accept remote assessments. Some psychologists may not be comfortable with this approach or may lack the training or experience to give these tests, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Remember that the goal of testing is not to accumulate scores, but to look at how your son learns and to see his current level of functioning. It may be possible to get a sense of this without using every test that is ordinarily used.

Even if the testing your school conducts is not as complete as you would like it to be, it can be a reasonable starting point. Keep in mind that you can request another evaluation by the school district when in-school assessment becomes available.

IEP for Distance Learning: What Accommodations are Best for Remote School?

Q: “Our school is doing distance learning again. I’m unsure of even the scope of accommodations to request for my son who is going into third grade. Any suggestions or ideas of what could be included?”

Presumably, your son has an IEP or a 504 Plan. The school’s legal obligation to provide him with appropriate accommodations has not changed during the switch to remote learning, although the U.S. Department of Education has advised that “exceptional circumstances could affect how a particular service is provided.”

You should begin by reviewing your son’s IEP or 504 Plan from last year. Think about what worked for him and what areas of concern you have. Then, contact your school and arrange for a virtual meeting to discuss what they suggest, in light of his needs and their ability to meet them while doing distance learning. For example, if he needs reading support, a Zoom session with a reading specialist a few times a week, possibly as part of a group, might be helpful. If he has ADHD, it might be possible to have his teacher “check in” with him during online lessons, to make sure he is paying attention. Remember that it is not just up to you to come up with his accommodations; this is something that should be a collaboration with the school.

There is no question that distance learning has challenges. That’s why the U.S. Department of Education has reminded schools that if distance learning isn’t providing a student with a fully appropriate IEP or 504 Plan, they should make a determination as to whether that student will require compensatory (make up) services when schools are fully open once again. It isn’t an ideal solution, but you should keep it in mind.

IEP for Distance Learning: Can We Still Get a Functional Behavior Assessment?

Q: “In this year of distance and hybrid learning, who is eligible for a Functional Behavior Assessment? Who should initiate that process and how does it logistically/practically work when children are not physically in school?”

As with all other aspects of the IDEA, eligibility for a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) has not changed during the pandemic. If your child’s school is open – online, in person, or some combination of the two – the school must make every effort to provide your child with whatever he or she is entitled to under the IDEA.

However, students who are not physically in school cannot effectively be assessed for school behavior. This may be one instance that falls under the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance that “there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided.”

On the other hand, if your child is attending school in person even part-time, with the rest of his education taking place online, there may be sufficient opportunity for the school to assess his behavior in class and in the school building. The FBA can be requested by a parent or school personnel and the process will include gathering information on the student’s background and behaviors and having the student meet with a school psychologist for testing and consideration of what is behind the student’s behaviors and how to best deal with them.

It is important to keep in mind that learning during this time of pandemic can be upsetting and disruptive for many students and it may not be the best time to assess a student’s baseline behavioral functioning. Most people are struggling during this difficult time and it may be helpful to wait to conduct this assessment, if circumstances permit.

IEP for Distance Learning: Next Steps

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