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Covid-19 and Navigating the Special Education System

Posted on March 3, 2021

In this video, Cuddy Law Firm special education attorney Joseph Sulpizio gives an update for parents in Pennsylvania in spring 2020 on how schools were required to provide special ed services during shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal laws for special education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), weren’t originally written to cover what happens in an extended closure because of a pandemic.

So when COVID-19 hit, Sulpizio explains, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance saying that if schools shut down entirely—like they do on snow days—special education services could also stop. If schools aren’t providing services to anybody, they’re not required to provide services to students with disabilities.

But when schools offer alternative education formats, like online learning, they must ensure that all students, including special education students, receive equal access to instruction. That means special education students still must receive what’s called a “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, as required by federal law.

One example of providing a FAPE to special needs students during pandemic remote learning could be giving extra support to parents and families on using the technology needed for their students to receive instruction online.
When schools reopen, the federal government said school districts should consider providing additional services to special education students, such as tutoring, to compensate for lost instruction time.

Sulpizio advised parents to keep track of what services their students receive during online learning and how that compares with their child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). That way when schools return to full functioning, parents can account for what their child missed that needs to be made up.

Watch the full video for a detailed discussion of what should happen for special ed students during disruptions in in-person school.

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