First and foremost, our thoughts are with the entire community and each and every one of our clients. We hope that everyone is staying safe, and taking care of their physical and mental health, during this very stressful time.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued updated guidance (DESE FAQ) yesterday for school districts related to disrupted services during the COVID-19 school closures. Our sense from listening to DESE present this guidance to stakeholders is that the state would like school districts to be creative, and to do what they can to support students during the COVID-19 closures – while also understanding there are going to be significant limitations on what is possible when schools are closed. We found the following information particularly relevant for our clients:
- Per DESE, school districts are not required to provide direct special education services to students while schools are closed due to COVID-19.
- Per DESE, school districts will not be required to provide “compensatory” services to students who miss special education services due to school closures. However, DESE encourages (but is not requiring) districts to provide “additional” services and/or “enrichment” opportunities to students who are affected by the disruption in programming.
- DESE supports (but is not requiring) school districts to hold Team meetings virtually. There are confidentiality and access concerns related to virtual Team meetings – however, this may be an option for some students.
- Timelines for evaluations, Team meetings, and other procedural actions will be delayed due to the school closures.
- Collaborative, private day and residential special education schools may remain open or re-open earlier than school districts. Transportation for students who are able to access these programs should be provided by districts.
As advocates for students with special needs, we will be encouraging DESE to support providing students with more robust services during and after the school closure period. For the moment, however, everyone will need to band together to make the best of a very difficult and novel situation. This is not business as usual. There are going to be disruptions to IEP services, and delays in timelines. But if we work together, maintain safe and healthy practices, and have reasonable expectations for each other, we will be able to get our kids back to the business of learning together sooner. Be well. We are with you.
-Michelle, Dan & Sherry