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School Reopening Plan and Impact on Students with Disabilities


With the coronavirus cases rising in Arizona, there are a lot more questions than answers about what the upcoming school year is going to look like. This month the Arizona Department of Education released a number of documents as a Roadmap for Reopening Schools.

Students with disabilities still have their protections under the IDEA. This has been confirmed by the ADE and the US Department of Education.

With its “Considerations for Students in Reopening Schools,” the ADE lays out 4 potential scenarios for the 2020-2021 school year. These are:

  1. All students in physical buildings

  2. Some students in physical building and some distance learning

  3. All students distance learning

  4. Intermittent distance learning (Emergency Closure)

As of the end of June 2020, scenario 1 seems the least likely. Some school districts already plan to start the school year all online and almost all will at least offer distance learning options for students.

What does this look like for students with disabilities?

The ADE’s Considerations affirm that students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education or FAPE in accordance with their individualized education program or IEP regardless of what scenario comes to pass.

When the 2020-2021 school year starts, schools should determine whether a student’s skills have regressed or the student’s needs have changed. In addition, the school should determine on an individual basis if compensatory educational services should be offered for the failure to provide FAPE during the school closures. This should happen within the first month or so of school.

To the extent that at least some of the instruction will be via distance learning, the ADE recommends support and instruction on using the school’s virtual learning program. This support should include supports for parents to assist students in accessing their online learning. The team may likely need to get together to determine if changes need to be made to the monitoring of the IEP goals given the distance learning environment.

ADE notes that IEP meetings may need to be conducted differently depending on whether students are learning partially or totally online. Schools had been conducting IEPs from March 2020 to May 2020 during the closures so this should not be a big impediment in the new school year.

Unfortunately there is nothing in the Considerations about how required IDEA evaluations might be conducted with a hybrid model or all distance learning. These need to be conducted at least every three years or following a parent request and team agreement. If the student’s learning environment is online, for example, the school should complete its evaluations with that environment taken into account.

The ADE will likely update its guidance in the coming weeks so hopefully the next update will include something about evaluations.

I will be posting updates as more information becomes available. If you have specific concerns for a special education attorney, please feel free to contact the Law Office of Richard J. Murphy, PLC for a free legal consultation. This is a confusing time for everyone including educators, students with disabilities and their families. The Law Office of Richard J. Murphy, PLC is ready to help students with disabilities and their families.

#COVID19 #reopening #distancelearning

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