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These Were Some of the Top Issues for Special Education Law in the 2020-21 School Year

Posted on July 13, 2021

The 2020-21 academic year was the first full school year to be reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. For parents looking to stay informed about major developments in special education during this unsettled time, a panel of special education attorneys gathered by video to look back on 2020-21.

The conversation included special education lawyer Adrienne Arkontaky, who is vice president of Cuddy Law Firm and managing attorney of the firm’s Westchester office. The video discussion was hosted by the Special Education Legal Fund, which provides grants to families to get legal help dealing with the special education system.

Adrienne identified two major dynamics that have influenced special education law during the pandemic era:

  • School districts struggling to provide remote learning that lives up to educational standards
  • School districts now facing the transition back to in-person learning

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, it caught school districts unprepared, Adrienne said.
They had widespread problems ensuring children had internet access and devices. Arrangements varied sharply from district to district.

“Literally, there was no planning,” she said. “We had kids who all the sudden had to go to remote learning. The parents were without childcare. It was just chaos.”

The process of identifying students in need of special education services slowed dramatically, with districts saying they couldn’t conduct special ed evaluations remotely.

Records of what services were still being provided, and what was missing, became difficult to track.
It was possible to be better positioned for the disruption. Adrienne said the Cuddy special education law firm, for example, “didn’t miss a beat because we were able to go to this paperless system. Everybody was able to work remotely. That didn’t happen in the (school) districts.”

So What Happens Next in Special Education?

Soon, the special education attorneys said, the number of students needing special education services will likely increase because of the mass emotional trauma of COVID-19.

“In the fall, we’re really just going to start seeing what has happened as a result of COVID,” Adrienne said. “Mental health issues are going to be really a challenge. The districts have to be ready.”

The special education legal panelists agreed that the period after the initial pandemic will be marked by educational deficits for students.

“Now, we’re going to see the regression,” Adrienne said. “Now we’re going to see all the problems as we come out of it. And that’s my biggest concern here. And trying to recover. Trying to recover.”

A major undertaking in the year ahead will be providing students with compensatory services to make up for missed special education services.

A Major Special Education Law Win for Cuddy Law Firm

Adrienne also discussed a major 2021 legal win Cuddy attorneys helped achieve for parents of a special education student. The case was called “Board of Education of the Yorktown Central School District v. C.S.”

After parents moved their child to a private school because the school district failed to provide an adequate Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in a timely way (before the parents had to decide where to enroll their child), courts ruled that the district had to reimburse them for the private tuition.

The school district argued that it provided everything needed because it updated the IEP during the 30-day resolution period after the parents filed a due process complaint.

The problem was that the district updated the plan without input from the family. The courts ultimately said the district can’t make such changes unilaterally, without cooperating with the parents.
Adrienne argued parents can’t make decisions about their child’s education based on a “moving target” of a plan that changes without notice. The Cuddy Law Firm took the case through several levels of appeal.

“As simple as this holding is, it’s huge for parents,” Adrienne said, in part because it requires public schools to respect the idea that they must work with parents during that 30-day resolution period. “For us, this was an incredible win.”

To hear the entire conversation, watch the video.

To discuss any problems you’re having getting full access to special education services for your child, contact the Cuddy Law Firm.

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