On May 29, 2020, the Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”) issued new guidance on how school districts must address the impact of the extended school closures due to COVID-19 on students with disabilities. The new guidance refers to the services provided by school districts to address students’ lack of access to special education and related services or lack of progress during the school closure as “additional services.” The DPI explains that it deliberately chose not to use the term “compensatory services” since they are typically associated with a school district’s failure to provide a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”). By contrast, additional services should address the disruption of educational services arising out of the extended school closures caused by the public health emergency.
The DPI also distinguishes additional services from extended school year (“ESY”) services. Although decisions regarding both ESY and additional services require consideration of student regression and recoupment, ESY decisions are based on predictions of how a student responds to breaks in-school programming. Conversely, additional services decisions are based on how the extended school closure impacted student progress in retrospect.
Eligibility for Additional Services
School districts must consider additional services for all students who were eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) during the school closures and students whose evaluations school districts could not complete due to the school closures. It also includes students whose eligibility for special education and related services ended because the student graduated or aged out of eligibility at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Determining Whether Additional Services Are Required
Additional services, like all special education and related services, must be determined on an individualized basis. Not every student with a disability will be entitled to additional services, even if a student did not receive all of the services specified in his or her individualized education program (“IEP”). The guidance also states that additional services need not replace services missed during the school closures on a minute for minute basis.
IEP teams must consider several factors to determine whether additional services are required and, if so, the scope of the services. DPI advises that IEP teams should consider whether the student’s functional or academic performance regressed, and, if so, whether it is reasonable to expect that student can regain the skills and make progress without additional services. For students who make progress, the IEP team should consider the extent to which he or she progressed toward IEP goals compared to the progress of all students during the school closure. Where data regarding a student’s functional or academic performance before the school closure is unavailable or limited, IEP teams should compare the student’s progress to grade/age level standards. DPI also advises that IEP teams should consider whether new services are necessary to assist a student’s transition back to the school environment due to mental health needs, lack of disengagement from learning during the school closure, or other reasons.
The same factors apply to students whose IDEA eligibility ends at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year due to graduation or aging out. However, IEP teams should focus on services for transitioning to post-secondary activities such as further education, training, employment, and independent living. Receiving additional services after graduating or reaching the maximum age of eligibility does not extend a student’s IDEA eligibility.
Similarly, IEP teams should consider the same factors when determining whether an eligible student whose evaluation was delayed by the school closure requires additional services. However, the IEP team should focus on the delay’s impact on the student’s progress in the general education curriculum compared to all students and in relation to grade/age level standards.
DPI directs that IEP teams should collect and consider student information and data from before, during, and after the school closures, if possible. The IEP team should consider the amount of remote instruction, special education, and related services provided during the school closure, as well as the student’s ability to access remote learning opportunities. Parent and staff observations may help assess the student’s ability to access remote learning.
Data on the student’s level of functional and academic performance before and after the school closure should be collected, as well as data and observations on the progress of grade/age level peers. DPI’s guidance also states that a student’s previous receipt of ESY services and data about his or her ability to recoup skills are relevant to determining what, if any, additional services are required.
School districts should begin preparing now to make additional service determinations. Evaluate existing progress data regarding student performance before the school closure to assess the school district’s ability to consider skill regression. Further, school districts should seek and document parent observations and feedback on their child’s engagement and ability to access remote learning. Gathering the information from parents before the IEP team is actively considering additional services may dampen exaggerated claims from parents seeking to maximize educational services for their child regardless of need.
The IEP team must determine additional services after considering the relevant data. The additional services must supplement and not supplant a student’s educational program and be provided in the least restrictive environment. Therefore, alternative scheduling options, such as extended school days or summer programs, should be considered to avoid impacting the special education and related services offered to provide FAPE and ensure students receive additional services with non-disabled peers, to the extent possible.
Complying with IDEA Procedures
DPI’s guidance states that school districts must consider and determine whether additional services are required for all students with disabilities as soon as possible after sufficient data is collected, but no later than six (6) months after school starts for the 2020-2021 school year. The guidance also states that school districts should prioritize students who need additional services to successfully return to school due to newly identified needs and students who did not receive special education and related services during the school closure. The guidance encourages school districts to consider starting services before the 2020-2021 school year begins, if possible.
School districts must contact eligible students who graduated or reached the maximum age of eligibility during the 2019-2020 school year or their guardians, to ask whether they are interested in additional services. If a student responds that he or she is not willing to participate or if the student fails to respond, the school district should document the decision and take no further action. If, however, the student is willing to participate, DPI advises that the IEP team should consider and determine additional services in the summer before school starts for the 2020-2021 school year.
School districts should convene an IEP meeting if possible to consider additional services. DPI advises that the IEP meeting invite should have the “Other” box checked for the meeting’s purpose with “Consideration of additional services due to the extended school closure” indicated in the explanation.
Alternatively, DPI is allowing school districts and parents to agree on IEP revisions without a meeting. School districts should document such agreements on Special Education Form I-10. The guidance states that the I-10 Form should document the data used to determine additional services and a description of said services.
DPI’s has based its current position that school districts and parents may document changes of placement on an I-10 Form without an IEP meeting on the current public health emergency. It is likely that using the I-10 Form to document additional services will not be allowed once the public health emergency ends and schools reopen.
Within the IEP, additional services should be included in the program summary and clearly labeled as “additional services due to extended school closure.” The additional services must be provided within the student’s annual IEP and the program summary should include clear descriptions of the additional services frequency, amount, and location, just like other services.
Although not stated explicitly, DPI’s guidance appears based on the assumption that schools will open in September 2020 with at least some in-person instruction. The timeframe for considering additional services for students could be altered if remote learning continues as the exclusive method of instruction in the fall.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has not issued guidance regarding additional services. The DPI’s new guidance could change quickly if the Department of Education issues new guidance or if new developments in the current public health emergency occur.
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