Special Education Advocacy During COVID-19

Article

Families are under unprecedented stress as they grapple with the impacts of school closures. Many are worried about what will happen with their child’s education when school resumes. For children with Asperger profiles who depend on the routine and structured environment at school, these times are especially difficult. AANE Child and Teen services is here to support you, whether with problem solving ways to implement learning at home or how to work remotely with your child’s special education team. This article will address some of the common concerns we’re hearing from parents and provide advocacy recommendations to help your child.

Documentation

All children are at risk of regression while school is closed. Our children are particularly vulnerable. You are in the best position to document your child’s abilities and challenges during this time. Keep a journal or log of what happens day to day. Take notes on your child’s behavior, level of independence with daily tasks, and any signs of regression or loss of skills. Also note what helps your child regulate and connect.

You can use a template like this to track remote learning opportunities and your child’s ability to access them. This data will let you see if there are times, days, or subjects during which your child is more readily available to learn. The information collected can then be shared with your child’s team to tailor supports and accommodations.

There is not yet guidance on Extended School Year (ESY) summer services or compensatory services. Documenting any barriers to learning or regression will help create a record to potentially guide future interventions.

Communication

If you (or your teen) are overwhelmed by communication from multiple providers and educators, ask for one person to serve as the main point of contact. You may consider using a shared document in order to easily track materials and information from each provider. Keep the team informed about what is working for your child or what would help. As always, polite persistence goes a long way.

If your child is regularly supported by a paraprofessional at school, ask to be put in contact with that person. Paras and support staff know firsthand how to motivate our students and scaffold learning tasks for them. Your child may benefit from hearing directly from a teacher or team member. Often being told what to do by someone other than a parent has more impact!

Services

The U.S. Department of Education has advised “to the greatest extent possible each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504.”

The more services school districts provide students now, the fewer compensatory or makeup services will be required in the future. If your child is not receiving their IEP services during this time, reach out to the school and ask for them. Services will most likely not look the way they are written in your child’s IEP service delivery grid—speech 30 minutes x 3 days per week may not be possible. Prepare to compromise. Are there activities you can do at home to help with retention and generalization of skills?

Be collaborative. Your suggestions about what would be most helpful for you and your child will assist the team in developing a remote learning plan. Identify with the team what the 2-3 most critical skills are for your child to maintain during this time. Parents will likely fall short when trying to implement a dozen things at home. Focusing on a few skills is more realistic and likely to lead to success.

If your school is struggling to provide remote IEP services, seek out parents from your district and other districts to ask what they’re experiencing. Special Education Parent Advisory Councils and social media are good mechanisms to gather information to show your school what’s possible. Regardless, document your efforts to obtain services to create a paper trail.

Remote IEP Meetings

If you are comfortable holding remote IEP meetings during school closures, we encourage you to do so. There will be a staggering backlog of meetings, eligibility determinations, and evaluations for educators once schools reopen on top of providing direct services to students. Holding an annual review or IEP development meeting now will help alleviate that workload. Timelines, if not suspended entirely, will likely be flexible so long as school districts act in good faith. This time is an opportunity to ensure your child’s IEP is updated and relevant heading into the next school year. AANE can help with this through our IEP review service.

Prepare for a remote IEP meeting the way you would for any other! Review your parent concern statement. Update it to include any social and emotional concerns you have for your child due to school closures. Consider your child’s level of independence in accessing and successfully completing remote schoolwork. Share the concern statement with the team ahead of the meeting in order to help shape the discussion.

Think about which accommodations your child may need to successfully transition to the next grade or a new school if in a transition year. If annual “move up” days are cancelled, is there a chance to tour a school remotely? Would pictures of teachers or classrooms help stem anxiety? Consultation time built in the service delivery grid for this year’s teachers to speak with next year’s staff may also be beneficial.

We know firsthand at AANE how daunting it can be advocating for your child under typical circumstances. Our hope is that these tips will help prepare you to proactively address your child’s special education needs now and in the future. Whether through a one-hour parent coaching session or through an IEP review, AANE staff are here for you. Please contact us with any questions or click here to schedule a free consultation.

COVID-19 Special Education Resources & Updates

Special Needs Advocacy Network (SPaN)

Mass Advocates for Children (MAC)

Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN)

US Department of Education