Providing educational services to children with disabilities poses unique challenges for schools and families. Of course, protecting the health and safety of students and staff must be a priority. Below are some of the questions that families and schools may have (this information is based on guidance from the US and NH Departments of Education):
It depends. If a school district closes its schools and does not provide any educational services to students, students with disabilities would generally not be entitled to receive special education services during that closure. If a school district continues to provide educational services to its students during the school closure, it must continue to provide students with a free appropriate public education, including the special education and related services in the child’s individualized education program (IEP).
A variety of options may be used to provide remote support to students with disabilities. The NH Department of Education’s Guidance to Schools identifies 3 possible options (although schools, in collaboration with parents, may identify other options that will meet their children’s educational needs in accordance with the child’s IEP):
- Providing services in a remote instructional environment (ex: online learning in the student’s home),
- Providing small group instruction in the school or other location (this could include a community-based setting),
- When services cannot be provided, either in-person or remotely, the child can expect to receive compensatory services (to make up for the special education and/or related services the child missed), or
- A combination of any of these options.
While “remote instruction” is not limited to online instruction, and may include instruction provided by way of print materials, videos or other media, the NH Department of Education has stated that it is working with vendors to make curricular and technology resources available across the state. During his presentation to the Senate Education, Health and Human Services, and Finance Committees, the Commissioner of the NH Department of Education noted that for students who lack the technology at home to access remote instruction, a school may utilize creative options, including allowing students to take home a Chrome Book or other technology that is usually only used at school. When a family’s situation requires a more individualized approach, the family may contact the school to discuss alternative options to provide their student with access to instruction. For example, if a student does not have access to the internet, the school may provide schoolwork through an ongoing exchange of print materials, or provide a flash drive with the student’s lessons preloaded.
In addition to learning how the school district plans to address this situation, either parents or the school district may want to contact the provider or agency to learn whether and how the private provider is revising its service delivery (which may include remote services) during this time. If a child does not receive services that are included in his/her IEP because of the provider’s unavailability, the child will be eligible for compensatory services at a later time. The school district may also try to arrange for a substitute service provider to ensure continuity of services.
This is a significant concern for many families, and one with no easy answer. The NH Department of Education is encouraging school districts to work with local community support organizations, including clubs, community libraries, etc., where small group instruction (which poses a lower risk of infection) may be provided. Parents may want to contact their school district to ask if the district is aware of any resources that may be helpful.
If for an extended period of time (generally 10 consecutive school days), a child is too ill to participate fully in remote instruction or services, the parent and superintendent shall agree on the number of hours of instruction and services the child will receive [Ed 1111.04(f)(1), referencing RSA 193:1(I)(c) and RSA 193:5]. If a child’s instruction is out of school, and not receiving some or all of his/her special education and related services for an extended period of time, the IEP team should meet to determine if the child needs additional or compensatory services when he/she returns to school.
In an effort to ensure continuity for children who rely on school nutrition programs, including free and reduced lunch, the NH Department of Education applied for and was granted a waiver providing schools with increased flexibility in how they prepare and distribute food programs. Parents should contact their school administrator or superintendent to find out how the school district plans to serve children who receive free and reduced meals through the school.
Because each private program is making their own decisions about how to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, parents should contact their child’s private school to ask how their child’s special education and related services will be provided. If the placement in the private school was made by the IEP Team, the school district remains responsible for providing the child with a free appropriate public education, and may be coordinating with the private school to do so.