Bureau of Special Education Guidance Addresses Special Education Programming, Communication and Compliance During COVID-19 Pandemic

| Mar 31, 2020 | Education |

On March 24, the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Bureau of Special Education (“BSE”) issued a Letter to Superintendents addressing the provision of continued educational opportunities and special education during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Based in part on prior guidance issued by the United States Department of Education (“DOE”) and executive orders issued by Governor Ned Lamont, the Letter addresses (1) access and equity requirements for continued educational opportunities, (2) communication with families regarding such opportunities, and (3) timelines for  implementation of the procedural requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).

The BSE recognizes that the current focus of district efforts should be on providing continued educational opportunities for all students while schools remain closed.  At the same time, however, school districts must ensure that students with disabilities are provided with the special education and related services identified in their individualized education programs (“IEPs”) “to the greatest extent possible.”  While planning and placement teams (“PPTs”) do not need to formally determine or document the continued educational opportunities afforded to students with disabilities, plans for such students should still be developed based on their individual needs.

School districts do not need to convene PPT meetings while schools remain closed if all students are receiving virtual, online or distance learning, because all students are receiving their instruction in an alternative location, and the provision of alternative location services to a child with a disability does not constitute a “change in placement.”  PPT meetings therefore are  not necessary to make revisions to IEPs pertaining to the alternative learning plan during the current school closures.

The BSE notes that there may be some unique circumstances when the district and parents agree that a PPT meeting is necessary, at which point they may agree to conduct a meeting via teleconference or videoconference.  However, the BSE recommends consideration of whether such a meeting is truly necessary, whether the appropriate members of the PPT are available for the meeting (many staff may not be available due to conflicting responsibilities of their own at home during the pandemic), and whether the confidentiality and privacy concerns of all team members can be honored.   

Regardless of whether a PPT meeting is held, however, the BSE recommends ongoing communication between school districts and parents regarding the development and implementation of plans for continued education and the provision of special education and related services.  This communication should be unique to individual students with disabilities, and school districts should be receptive to ongoing input and feedback from parents.

Finally, the BSE addressed school districts’ compliance with various timelines set forth in the IDEA.  If a PPT recommended an initial evaluation for a student not yet identified for special education prior, the timeline for completing the evaluation “pauses” while schools remain closed, because these school closure days are not considered “school days” for purposes of the State regulations.  While the IDEA does not explicitly permit the suspension of reevaluation timelines for students already identified as eligible for special education, the BSE noted that school districts and parents may still agree in writing, under current IDEA regulations, that a reevaluation is not currently necessary.  Finally, if an annual review deadline passes while schools are closed and the effective date of a student’s IEP lapses, the IEP will remain in effect until schools reopen and the PPT can reconvene to develop a new IEP.  According to BSE guidance, such missed deadlines will not affect each district’s Annual Performance Report determinations for the 2019-2020 school year. Nonetheless, school districts should carefully document the late convening of PPT meetings once schools reopen, as well as other agreements reached with parents during the school closure period.

School districts should expect ongoing guidance from DOE and BSE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and should be prepared to adjust their special education programming, accordingly.

The full text of the Letter can be viewed through the following web link:

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/SDE/Digest/2019-20/March-24-2020-LEA-Memorandum-BSE-COVID-19.pdf?la=en

Attorneys at Berchem Moses PC are available to consult schools and school districts regarding regular and special education matters in the State of Connecticut, including matters pertaining to the impact of COVID-19 on public schooling.  For further information, please contact Attorney Michelle Laubin at [email protected].

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