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COVID-19 Pandemic and Rights of Students with Disabilities

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The COVID-19 outbreak continues to affect school operations. Parents of students with disabilities whose special education services are affected by COVID-19 should know that their children still have rights and protections despite any disruptions caused by the outbreak.

This resource highlights some key special education requirements that may assist you in ensuring that a student with a disability continues to receive a free and appropriate public education. Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) has additional education resources that provide more information on the special education process, including a glossary of special education terms. We also accept requests for advocacy on behalf of individuals with disabilities. If you would like to get help from DRTx, learn how to apply for services.

Compensatory Services and Extended School Year Services

Compensatory services are extra services provided by the school to return a student with a disability to a level of educational progress which the student should have attained but could not because of a failure by the school. Extended school year services are special education services provided beyond the normal school year.

When schools were closed or only offering remote instruction for an extended period and no special education services were provided because of the outbreak, the district should provide compensatory services so the student may catch up and reach Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals. The school should offer extended school year services if the student has exhibited, or reasonably may be expected to exhibit, severe or substantial regression that cannot be recouped within a reasonable period of time.

Passed in 2021, Senate Bill 89 now requires schools to add a written supplement to a student’s IEP to address needed compensatory services for special education service reductions and lost progress resulting from school closures because of the pandemic. If the school does not prepare the COVID-19 IEP Supplement or propose making up services not delivered, parents may request compensatory services for the failure to implement provisions of the IEP and comply with Senate Bill 89.

Online Instruction

Online instruction or remote instruction is teaching through technology when the teacher and student are in separate places. Online instruction is an option for the school to deliver academic and some non-academic content to a student with a disability.

Under a new state law, districts may receive state aid for educating students in a remote manner. All virtual instruction must be accessible and afford the student an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement as that provided to others. Accessibility and equal opportunity issues might range from captioning of a live lecture, use of assistive technology, to adaption of methods for the student to demonstrate content knowledge.

Remote instruction might be preferable over changing the placement of a student with a disability to homebound. While homebound placement keeps a student out of a classroom, there are drawbacks such as involving a doctor to recommend a restricted setting and typically fewer hours of special education services. Decisions about homebound versus online instruction should happen at the parent’s request at an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) Committee meeting.

In-Person Instruction

While schools have widely reopened, COVID-19 is still present and can threaten the well-being and life of both staff and students. To protect students with disabilities and allow in-person participation in schooling, parents may request reasonable accommodations of social distancing and masks under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

As with all accommodation requests, parents should have supporting documentation and put the request in writing to a school administrator. Parents may report the failure of a district to provide reasonable accommodations to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Prior Written Notice

Prior written notice is a document that the school must give to the parents of a student with a disability anytime the school wants to change something in the student’s IEP, such as where the student is educated or the amount of special education services currently provided.

This notice keeps parents informed of a potential change so they can help the school decide about any revisions to the IEP. For example, if the school wanted to reduce how often related services are provided to a student because of the outbreak, then it must give the parents a prior written notice.

In Texas, the school must give the prior written notice to the parents at least five school days before the school proposes a change, unless the parent agrees to a shorter timeframe.

ARD Committee Meetings

An ARD Committee includes both school staff and the parents of a student with a disability. The ARD Committee is the group that discusses and decides where the student is educated and the type and amount of special education and related services provided. For example, if the parents wanted to discuss services for their child who is medically fragile in light of the outbreak, then they may request an ARD Committee meeting.

The school may hold a virtual meeting allowing remote participation to practice social distancing during the outbreak.

Review and Revision of IEPs

A student’s IEP contains important information about the student, including where the student is educated and the type and amount of special education and related services provided.

The school and parents must review and update the IEP at least once a year. If a change is needed or approved sooner, such as during the same school year, the school and parents must revise the IEP. For example, if the school wanted to move a student to a homebound placement because of the outbreak, then the student’s ARD Committee must amend the IEP.

Reevaluations

A reevaluation is a new round of testing and assessment of a student with a disability. The school must reevaluate a student at least once every three years.

The school should also revaluate a student anytime it determines that the educational or related service needs of the student warrant a reevaluation. Parents may also request a reevaluation.

For example, if the school were closed or only offering remote instruction for an extended period and no or limited special education services were provided because of the outbreak, then the school should seek parental permission to reevaluate the student upon returning to school for regression of skills. Parents should request a reevaluation in writing if they are worried their child has regressed or missed a substantial amount of special instruction and services.

Additional Resources

For more information and resources related to the rights of students with disabilities during COVID-19, check out the items listed below.

DRTx:

Texas Education Agency (TEA):

Other organizations:

Help for College Students

If you have questions or concerns about your rights at college and want to speak with someone, Text: COLLEGE to 512-229-9109 to request someone contact you.

 

Created: March 12, 2020
Updated: October 11, 2021
Publication Code: ED24


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Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.

The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.


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