The Department of Education recently issued Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook. The handbook offers suggestions for creating safe and healthy learning environments, addressing lost instructional time, and supporting educator and staff stability and well-being. Throughout the guidance, the Department encourages readers to keep students who may have been especially impacted by the pandemic and remote learning – including students with disabilities – at the center of plans for returning to in-person learning and using American Rescue Plan funds. The reminder to focus on issues of equity and the needs of vulnerable students, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, Native American students, Asian American students, LGBTQ students, English learners, students with disabilities, migratory students, rural students, students in foster care, students in correctional facilities, and students experiencing homelessness is important. The details specific to special education, however, are fairly general.
In the section discussing in-school and supplemental programs to accelerate learning, the guidance cautions that such programs cannot replace the special education and related services on a student’s IEP or the services and supports on a student’s 504 plan. Additionally, districts should take steps to make district and school-wide programs aimed at addressing lost instructional time inclusive and accessible to students with disabilities. What does that look like when planning for summer programming? We expect many variations, from district to district and student to student. The needs of students with disabilities should be considered both at the holistic level when designing supplemental programs and at the individual level by IEP and 504 teams.
The guidance goes on to advise that IEP teams make individualized decisions both related to a student’s current needs and the services necessary to provide FAPE as well as related to any compensatory services that may be needed to make up for skills that were lost if the student did not receive FAPE during the pandemic. This message is consistent with what the Department has advised since the beginning of the pandemic. We will be on the lookout for any additional guidance from OSEP, OSSERS, or OCR related compensatory services. But for now, districts have discretion on how to implement this general directive. Districts should consider training IEP teams to (1) identify students who may be entitled to compensatory services, (2) hold meetings to analyze whether the student received FAPE, and (3) identify appropriate compensatory services.