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Reviewing Your Child's IEP: Considering COVID

Published August 25, 2020 by Susan Clark Law Group LLC
Reviewing Your Child’s IEP: COVID Considerations

COVID-19 and Your Child’s IEP

By Dr. Mark Franceschini, Education Consultant, Susan Clark Law Group, LLC

How was your child’s progress in school this past year? Obviously a year older, your son’s or daughter’s needs have changed. The Child Study Team (CST) must meet at least annually to review the IEP that was in effect during the year. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made this an urgent matter.

Developing a proper IEP, which will have a significant effect on your child’s life and future, requires much preparation on your part. If you are unable to do so, obtain the assistance of someone who fully understands the process – a friend, teacher, advocate or an attorney who specializes in the field of special needs children. Before you sit down with the CST, of which you are an important member (since you know your child better than anyone else), the school district should have provided you with a comprehensive report including:

  • A complete assessment of your child’s cognitive skills;
  • Your child’s achievement levels in all areas of his or her strengths and weaknesses;
  • Your child’s social, emotional, and behavioral issues.
  • It is important to note that if you do not agree with any the educational of the evaluations, you can request an Independent Evaluation.

When you have received and understand all of the above documents, you are prepared to sit with the CST and examine your child’s progress toward the goals and objectives in the IEP. Obviously, those goals and objectives no longer apply, since the year is over. The fact that your child was not subjected to “normal” teaching for almost four months this past year, emphasizes the importance of this review of the IEP. It is certainly not unreasonable to assume that a major part of the year was lost from an educational progress perspective. What remote learning occurred was certainly not on par with the in-school experience. Social and emotional progress slowed significantly since March.

As a result of the above, you will likely have to revisit last year’s goals and objectives and adjust them to reflect:

  1. How far your child progressed?
  2. How the measurements and timelines need to be adjusted?
  3. What needs to be added to ensure that he or she can recoup the lost time since the close of school?
  4. What has to be changed besides the goals and objectives? Extended School Year? Changes in modifications and accommodations?
  5. What compensatory education must the school district give your child to ensure: (a) he or she can recoup the lost time?, and (b) he or she can recover from any regression that may have occurred since last attending school. This will require the school district to conduct regression testing to determine what was lost.

The new, revised IEP must address your child’s current needs. Further, in preparing new goals and objectives, the team must look at how well or how poorly last year’s goals were achieved. Besides the effects of the COVID-19 school closings, you may have some other issues to be considered, such as:

  • Is he or she transitioning to a middle school or high school?
  • Is he or she going to graduate?
  • Is he or she seeming to academically improve or regress since the last IEP?
  • Is your child entitled to compensatory education? Are you familiar with the laws that determine this?

The IEP can be very overwhelming, looking at the technical terms and trying to understand what it all means. Here are some details that we suggest that you look for when examining the IEP. Make sure you look at all of the progress reports. The district is obligated to provide progress reports to the parents. Progress reports will show if your child is meeting his or her goals. It is unlikely that your child met all of the goals due to several factors: absence from school since March; the questionable effectivity of remote learning; and your child’s own special needs which may have precluded him or her from achieving the goals at the outset. I will discuss progress reports below, when we examine the new IEP.

Before continuing further with the IEP, the district must determine where your child is NOW. They must determine your child’s present educational levels in all areas: academic, social, physical, and behavioral. What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses? Often, areas of strength can assist in overcoming weaknesses. For example, if he or she enjoys working with the computer or playing computer games, this strength can be used for some reading or mathematics programs to address any weaknesses in those areas.

What are his or her testing scores? Into what percentile do these fall? What is your child’s grade-level equivalency? Is this below where he or she should be? It is only when you know this information that you can determine what his or her needs are. Without knowing those needs, goals and objectives cannot be meaningfully developed.

Besides the regression evaluation which the district must do, are there other evaluations which are coming due? (Evaluations must be done at least every three years). Look at the IEP and determine the dates of the previous evaluations. Are there additional evaluations which you think may be necessary? Was your child previously determined to be borderline vis-a-vis ADHD? Autism? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Has your child’s dyslexia been properly addressed with his or her reading program? Is it a science-based and researched program? Will your child need a paraprofessional for help? Does your child need psychiatric, psychological, or neuropsychological services? Are interventions such as cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Applied Behavioral Analysis needed?

At this point, the CST can develop the goals and objectives for the new IEP. The school district may offer to provide something which may not be suitable for your child. If you do not fully grasp the implications of the district’s suggestions, seek help. The goals and objectives must be directly related to your child’s individual needs. They should address those needs in every academic are of concern, as well as any social, emotional, or behavioral needs that have been exhibited. The goals and objectives must be measurable. That is, at during or at the end of a certain period (bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly), you should be able to look at a number and determine whether or not he or she has met the goal or objective. In this manner, if the goal or objective is not being met, you and the CST can determine what adjustments must be made to either goal/objective or the educational process. Goals are extremely important in an educational plan. If you don’t have a goal, you don’t know where you are going.

From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: “Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here? . . .” “That depends on where you want to get to.”

The goals and objectives identify what knowledge, skills, and behaviors a student is expected to demonstrate within a certain time period. Although the time period of the IEP is usually one year, the objectives within that goal should present shorter time periods to be able to assess progress.

For example: Present level: James can type 20 words per minute with 90% accuracy. Goal: James will type 45 words per minute by the end of the year, with 90% accuracy. Objective 1. : By the end of the 1st mp, James will type 25 wpm with 90% accuracy. Objective 2. : By the end of the 2nd mp, James will type 30 wpm with 90% accuracy. Objective 3. : By the end of the 3rd mp, James will type 35 wpm with 90% accuracy. Objective 4. : By the end of the 4th mp, James will type 40 wpm with 90% accuracy.
Another area of importance is progress reporting which was mentioned above, school districts usually provide quarterly or triennial report cards. These are not progress reports. The progress report, first of all, should be provided at a minimum of four times per year – sometimes more frequently. It’s purpose is not to give a grade, but to address the measurable aspects stated in the goals and objectives of the IEP. Further, if your child is not making adequate progress toward the achievement of his or her goals, you should be notified as soon as possible, so that you and the CST can adjust either the goals and objectives or the manner in which the instruction is taking place. There has been significant research showing that frequent monitoring and home communication has a positive outcome for a child’s achievement of his or her goals.

Modifications and accommodations must be re-examined. Besides special instructions for teachers and administrators, the need for services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, paraprofessional assistance, learning devices, and other related services, the district must also consider supports for school personnel. This could include training for teachers and paraprofessional, and personal care.

Extended School Year (ESY). Will your child need to attend an ESY program. Did the regression testing performed by the school district to measure the effects of COVID-19 lead to the conclusion that the coming school year will be insufficient in recouping what was lost?

As the IEP is one of the most important developments in your child’s life, ensure that you are totally aware of the legal and educational ramifications of anything decided by the Child Study Team. Be prepared to counter any school district’s proposals which you believe will not help your child. Further, prepare to ask for additional services necessitated by the closing of schools four months early. Remember as a member of the IEP team, you are a very important part of the meeting and should speak up to voice with your opinion.

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