Special Education and Coronavirus

All public and private K-12 schools in Washington will be closed until April 24th to slow the spread of Coronavirus in Washington state. Where does this leave the approximately 143,000 students in our state that receive special education services?  

*These are challenging times for the disability community. We will continue to monitor the evolving situation and post updates if there are any changes.

Will my child still receive IEP services when our school is closed?
According to the state and federal government, if the school is not providing instruction to all students during the shutdown, then it is not required to provide special education services. WA state is asking schools to consider special education needs on a case-by-case basis to address health and safety needs of students with disabilities.

If the schools continue providing instruction to students, then they must provide services to students on IEPs. Schools are not permitted to deny all services to students with IEPs then offer compensatory services later.

Will my child receive exactly the same services as they were receiving at school? The guidance from the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) states there may be exceptional circumstances or an inability to provide services during school closures, and that IEP teams will have to address compensatory services or Extended School Year (ESY) services when school resumes. Students with special health care needs must have those needs addressed on a case-by-case basis. 

OSPI has indicated that the Special Education Technology Center, an IDEA funded state needs project, will be providing technical assistance to schools. Districts are being asked to consider accessible technology, small group instruction with access to nondisabled peers, and instructional phone calls.  There is no prohibition on providing related services to students on a case-by-case basis, as long as social distancing methods are observed.

Does my school still have to hold IEP and evaluation meetings? 
There is no prohibition on having IEP and evaluation meetings at school, and individual evaluations. While schools are being asked to consider holding video conference meetings, there is no ban on having the meetings in person.

How will this affect state citizen’s complaints and due process hearings? OSPI is not waiving IDEA dispute resolution options and timelines. They may consider whether “extenuating circumstances” necessitate changes in activities and timelines, and will document and share them with involved parties.

What if my child is placed in a Non Public Agency (NPA?) Districts and NPAs are expected to work together to provide learning resources and support during school closure. 

We have heard of school districts beginning to communicate to parents that they will not make payments to the NPA during school closure. OSPI is communicating to districts that they must refer to their contracts with NPAs, and that safety net eligibility will still apply to payments made during school closure.

What if my child is placed at a residential facility out of state?
If the out-of-state NPA is closing, then the school district and NPA are responsible for ensuring the safety of the student. The school district and NPA must contact the family and arrange for the safest and most reasonable method of transportation back to Washington if needed.
If the out-of-state NPA remains open, then it should continue providing services to the student and communicate its plans to the school district, according to OSPI. 

Do the IDEA and disability civil rights law still apply?
All federal and state laws governing special education and the rights of students with disabilities still apply, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Want to learn more? Read the U.S. Department of Education guidelines here. Read the OSPI guidelines here.

Questions? Schedule a consultation with us at http://www.cass.law or call at (206) 452-5665.