Virtual IEP meetings are possible and successful in New Jersey school districts that have adapted to restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Jersey school districts are faced with an unprecedented dilemma because of the state-mandated school closures caused by the coronavirus. The responses from school districts regarding how education is provided to students with disabilities is highly variable, ranging from developing specific, deliberate plans to evaluate students and develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to having no strategy in place at all. Schools need to prepare for the possibility that they may remain closed for the rest of the academic year. We are so thankful for all the teachers and administrators who are working so hard to find solutions, and we understand many are fearful of getting sick or getting others sick. Public health and the safety of students, teachers, and paraprofessionals must be the first priority. In times like this, Susan Clark Law Group encourages parents and districts to find creative solutions.
For example, last week a school counselor set up a FaceTime session with two autistic classmates who needed the social interaction. This “outside-the-box” effort made a huge impact on our client.
The U.S. government has addressed this critical issue.
On March 21, 2020, the federal Department of Education (USDOE) released a statement that clearly stated:
“To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.”
Children with 504 plans and IEPs should still be receiving their services during remote learning.
Some school districts are doing exactly the opposite of what the USDOE ordered them to do. They are simply not providing any education to students with special needs.
We are excited to work with the school districts that are trying hard to implement creative and alternative ways to provide special education instruction. These school districts have plans to continue the evaluation process and develop and revise IEPs virtually. We have had many IEP meetings remotely over the phone or using programs such as GoToMeetings or Zoom. The meetings took a bit longer but were very productive. These school districts seem to be keenly aware that special education timelines still apply and have, in turn, carefully continued educational services. While some school districts are essentially blaming special education requirements as the reason for doing nothing, others are seizing the opportunity to providing and full and fair public education to their students, including special education students. We congratulate those school districts who are stepping up.
School districts need to work collaboratively with parents of special education students to implement IEPs during this extraordinary time.
Doing nothing and blaming the circumstances may be the easier path. However, if schools and families can work collaboratively, it will vastly improve the chances of special education services being delivered appropriately to children.