Mar 12, 2020

US Department of Education Issues Guidance to Prevent the Spread of COVID 19

This is a complex time for your special education and pupil services departments in trying to figure out how to prepare for any possible school closing. Today the US Department of Education issued guidance to help administrators of public and private childcare programs and K–12 schools plan for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff, including special education students. Click here to read the guidance from the US Department of Education. PDE is expected to issue a statement tomorrow.

No educational law specifically addresses a situation like the one at hand, i.e., the concern of an outbreak of a particular disease. Therefore, the guidance is helpful. It clearly indicates that, if an LEA closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 and the school district does not provide any educational services to the general student population during the closure, then an LEA would not be required to provide any services to students with disabilities during that same period of time. Once school resumes for the general student population in any way, the LEA must make every effort to provide special education and related services its special education students per the individualized program of the child, i.e., per the child’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. The child’s IEP team would be responsible for making an individualized determination as to how to go about doing so (although in person IEP team meetings would not be required and, instead, such determinations could be done by phone or virtually.

In summary, if an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE.

If your school is not considering closing, this situation still poses a need for IEP teams to consider how this change in the environment could impact any medically fragile students/students with immunity deficiencies. IEP teams should proactively meet to discuss and decide, what, if anything, should be altered in the IEP program and/or placement to meet the individual needs of each child considered. Documenting the consideration of this may be all that is advised, but this will depend on the circumstances. Obtaining medical input from the child’s physician could be helpful for this process. Virtual distance learning options are possible ideas to consider. All will depend on the individual circumstances of the child and the then current guidance from state and local officials regarding the state of the COVID-19 health crisis.

If you have further questions or wish to discuss some of the practical implications of this, please contact Jennifer Donaldson in the Education Law practice at Eastburn and Gray.

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