Are Children with IEPs and 504 Plans Entitled to Services During the COVID-19 Outbreak?
Updated: Mar 26
During this dark time, the United States Department of Education recently issued written informal guidance regarding the provision of school services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. The document, which is in question and answer format, outlines states' responsibilities to children with disabilities and their families and to the staff that serve them. School districts in California will need to collaborate with the California Department of Education and the California Health and Human Services Agency, as appropriate to address questions about the provision of services to children with disabilities.
The following is a summary of the informal guidance issued by the Department of Education regarding state responsibilities to school children with special needs during the COVID-19 outbreak:
1) If a school district closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and the school district does not provide any educational services to children in the general student population, then the school district is not obligated to provide services to students with disabilities, including students with IEPs and 504 plans, during this time.
2) Once school resumes, the school district must make every effort to provide special education and related services to a child with a disability in accordance with the child's individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan. The IEP team or staff responsible for implementing the IEP or 504 plan must make an individual determination whether to provide the child with compensatory services.
3) If a school district continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school district must make sure that students with disabilities are provided with equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). And schools must ensure that to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability is provided the special education and related services included in the student's IEP or 504 plan.
4) If a child with a disability who has an IEP or 504 plan is absent from school for an extended period of time (more than 10 days) because they are infected with COVID-19 while the schools remain open, the school district must provide the child with homebound instruction as ordered by a physician. An IEP meeting must be held to change the child's placement and the contents of the IEP, if needed. The IEP team will determine whether the child would benefit from homebound instruction, which may possibly be provided online or virtually or by telephone calls or other curriculum-based instruction activities, to the extent available. The IEP team must determine to what extent compensatory services may be needed.
5) If a public school for children with disabilities is closed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 because the children are at high risk of severe illness or death, the school district must decide whether each student could benefit from homebound instruction, to the extent to which it is available. If a child does not receive services during this closure, the IEP team or appropriate personnel under a 504 plan must determine to what extent compensatory services may be needed to make up for lost educational opportunity.
6) If a child with a disability at high risk of severe medical complications is excluded from school during an outbreak of COVID-19 while the child's school remains open, if this emergency measure is for less than 10 consecutive school days, it will not be considered a change of placement. The parent or school staff may call for an IEP meeting if he exclusion from school is likely to last longer than 10 school days.
If the exclusion is likely to be long-term, and the child has an IEP, the school district must consider placements under the IDEA's procedural protections regarding the continuum of alternative placements. A change in placement decision must be made by a group of persons, including the parents. The school district must issue a prior written notice proposing the change in placement. A parent who objects to this change of placement decision retains due process rights to challenge the placement. The decision to dismiss a child with special needs from school must be based on their individual needs and not on stereotypes or generalizations.
7) An IEP team may consider a distance learning plan in a child's IEP as a contingency plan in the event a COVID-19 outbreak requires a school's closure. Such a plan may include provisions for special education and related services to be provided at an alternate location or the provision of online or virtual instruction, or instruction by telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities. And the plan may identify any related services, if any, may be provided in the child's home.
Please note: The U.S. Department of Education issued the guidance regarding provision of services during the COVID-19 in March 2020. As the situation with the virus evolves, how individual states respond to the outbreak may vary. To read the U.S. Department of Education's guidance statement, which includes guidance on the provision of services for infants and toddlers click here.
Education Attorney Molly Watson
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