Letters from various districts and SELPAs are being generated which are generic, meaning not specifically addressed to each Parent, with the intent of misleading Parents into believing that the District is not responsible for providing the services that are listed in their child’s IEP.
The law has NOT changed and Districts are still required to meet your child’s special education needs.
Understanding the changes for California special education students, and how those changes impact your child
School closures and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a rapidly changing situation for California special education students and their families. Over the past several weeks, schools have shifted to distance learning models, and what that has meant specifically for students with disabilities has changed over time.
Many school districts are putting out confusing messages, or telling Parents misleading things like that IEP meetings can’t happen during school closures. Parents have questions about how their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Act may be impacted, and how that effects the IEP process for their child. We will try to break it down for you here.
What we know about changes to California special education laws:
The good news is that the U.S. Department of Education did not seek waivers of the IDEA other than as applied to students transitioning from 0-3 services to 3-22 programs (here in California, that would be students transitioning from Regional Centers into the School District at age 3). Along with those waivers as to the assessment process for incoming 3 year olds, the Department of Education made it clear that those students would continue to have access to their 0-3 interventions (that is, their services under their IFSP) in the meantime. In deciding to seek no other waivers, the Department of Education made a statement that it saw “no reason” that waivers would be needed during the pandemic. In other words, the full protections of the IDEA – all of the procedural safeguards that protect parent rights in the process, all of the rights to a free appropriate public education for individual students – should still be able to be applied despite school closures.
However, in California, we have had the benefit of state laws that go above and beyond federal laws in some ways. Keep in mind that the federal law has supremacy over state law. The state is allowed to enact laws that grant greater protections and rights to individuals, but it does not have the right to enact laws that take away or lesson the protections that exist in federal law. Two examples of California’s state laws that grant more clear rights to parents in the IEP process have been impacted by state-level decisions in the wake of the pandemic.
The first was related to student records. Whereas federal law only requires records to be provided without unnecessary delay, and in no case longer than 45 days after a request, California state law had a provision that obligated school districts to provide pupil records for special education students to parents within 5 business days of their request. The second was related to the assessment process. Federal law has a provision requiring school districts to assess within 60 days of consent, but that only applies to initial assessments. California state law applies that 60 day timeline to reevaluations as well, and more importantly for our discussion about changes, state law also required districts to provide a proposed assessment plan (or to respond in writing) within 15 days of a parent’s written request to assess.
SB117 was passed in California to provide much needed relief to school districts impacted by school closures. While much of the relief provided for in SB117 was needed, and will allow districts to better serve their students, other provisions had a negative impact on students’ rights. In terms of California special education students, what SB117 did was suspend the 5 day records requirement and the 15 day assessment plan requirement in California law until schools reopen. This means that if parents make a records request during the time that schools are closed, the previous state law applying to requests for pupil records for special education students does not apply. It also means that if parents seek an assessment of their child, the law requiring an assessment plan in 15 days also does not apply.
It’s Not As Simple As It Seems…
Parents still have rights related both to records and to assessments, and it isn’t as simple as districts may try to make it sound. SB117 does not necessarily mean that parents can’t have records until schools reopen, or that there is no obligation whatsoever for districts to evaluate students.
Remember, the IDEA has not been waived. The IDEA contains provisions that require school districts to conduct “child find” activities – meaning seeking out, locating, evaluating and identifying students with disabilities that may need special education. This is sometimes referred to as “seek and serve.” Under child find, districts could still be required to assess if necessary to ensure that they are making a FAPE available to all students.
As to records, it is even more complex. While the provision of the California Education Code applying to special education students was impacted by SB117, a separate provision in the state law that applies to records for all pupils (regardless of whether they are eligible for an IEP) was not referenced. It remains to be seen how this other provision may be impacted, and how districts will interpret their obligations. The federal requirement for records, however, still stands. State law cannot supersede federal law, and by enacting SB117, the state had no authority to change the existing mandate that districts provide records without unnecessary delay and in no case more than 45 days after the request.
An Overview for Parents
We have put together this infographic to explain these changes for parents:
Soon after the COVID-19 crisis caused schools across a number of states to shut down, the United States Department of Education posted a Q&A on its website regarding states’ responsibilities to provide special education services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act while their public schools were closed.
Some interpreted the USDOE’s Q&A to mean that
public schools were prohibited from offering educational programs to special
education students via distance learning. The Q&A also suggested that the
right to a legally required free and appropriate public education was
contingent upon whether general education students were receiving instruction,
Based on the USDOEs Q&A, some school districts decided to halt instruction entirely, under the assumption that they need not provide special education students with a free and appropriate public education during the closures. In other words, some districts chose not to provide special education during school closures, and therefore did not provide any instruction to any students through distance learning.
School districts can effectively provide services via modifications such as video and telephonic conferences.
The USDOE stated that school districts should not close or deny distance learning opportunities, particularly because they can be used to provide services to special education students. The USDOE made clear that school districts can effectively provide many special education during school closures, including providing services via modifications, such as through video and telephonic conferences.
However, the USDOE also noted that the nature
of some related services render them challenging, and perhaps unsafe, to
administer from afar, such as occupational therapy. Needless to say, many
special education students who receive physical therapy services (and other
services considered unsuitable for refashioning) will be negatively affected
during the school closures.
In California, on
March 13, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-26-20 ensuring State
funding for Local Educational Agencies (LEA), which includes school districts
and charter schools, in the event of physical closure due to the threat of
COVID-19. The Executive Order required the California Department of Education
(CDE) to issue guidance on several topics, including ensuring students with
disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with
their individualized education program (IEP) and meeting other procedural
requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and
The CDE latest update was issued on March 20, 2020 which included a number of FAQ. School districts were urged to continue to provide special education and related services as outlined in the IEP through a distance learning model if they were able to do so through alternative service delivery models as appropriate for each student. In other words, if possible, school districts should provide special education during school closures.
Educational services provided to special education students should be commensurate with those identified in the IEP for each student to ensure educational benefit.
The CDE also indicated that when a school
district is providing instruction through a distance learning model that they
must create access to the instruction or students with disabilities, including planning for appropriate modifications or
accommodations based on the individualized needs of each student and the
differences created by the change in modality (e.g. virtual vs.
classroom-based). Educational and support services provided should be
commensurate with those identified in the IEP for each student to ensure
The CDE also noted that once
regular school sessions resume, now expected to be in the Fall of 2020, that
IEP teams should make determinations regarding whether or not compensatory
education services may be needed for a student by assessing whether or not the
student continued making progress in the general education curriculum, or any
alternative course of study specified in their IEP, or toward meeting their IEP
goals and/or if any regression occurred during the period of school site
Despite the USDOE’s and CDE’s attempts to calm
fears and refine their positions, you may be confused as to what special
education services your children should be receiving, and what legal
options are available to them in the event the services are not provided.
We at A2Z Educational Advocates are here to help parents advocate for special education during school closures.
If you have any
questions or concerns regarding the impact school closures have on your
student’s education, please contact us at (310) 573-1430 for a free preliminary
A2Z Educational Advocates: Continuing Our Fight for Equity in Education
By Mayra Loza. Mayra is a Special Education Advocate at A2Z and is the mom to a child with special needs.
I’ve recently learned that LAUSD will be extending school closures due to the coronavirus, through the end of the school year. As a LAUSD Parent of a child with special needs and a Special Education Advocate, I am extremely concerned about the impact that the school closures will have on all students with special needs, both short-term and long-term.
My son is a third-grader with Autism Spectrum Disorder. His IEP includes placement in a general education classroom with related services that include Specialized Academic Instruction, Recreation Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Counseling and Guidance, Speech and Language Therapy, Vision Therapy, Adapted Physical Education, and Behavior Support (1:1 behavior aide throughout the day and aide supervision). His access to his education highly depends on the supports, accommodations, and related services provided for within his IEP.
I am extremely worried about my
son’s future, as it has now been three weeks since the school closures, yet all
I have received from LAUSD are minimal assignments from his general education
teacher which consists mostly of review materials (i.e., “busy work”), rather
than instruction and materials that would prepare him for the next grade level. LAUSD has not provided any direct instruction
from his teacher or from his service providers through a distance learning
model. The District has failed to do anything to ensure that my son can
continue to work on his individual IEP goals and to make progress. There has
not been any attempt to provide the related services outlined in his IEP.
“My biggest fear is that he will regress and never recover from this…”
Given that children with special needs are already prone to regression, I am extremely concerned that the gap will only widen, between my son’s skills and those of his grade level peers to the point that it will take many years to close that gap. I’ve worked very hard over the course of many years, pushing and demanding that the District provide the related services that my son clearly needed to address all of his unique needs. However, since the school closure, there has not been a single attempt to implement his IEP. What is most concerning and what keeps me up at night, is that it took many years to get my son to the place where he is now, and my biggest fear is that he will regress and never recover from this. My immediate thought is, my son is not expendable. He deserves to be educated just as all of the general education students do. At this point LAUSD has only provided empty promises for its students with special needs.
sent links which do not provide any answers as to how my son will be educated
and how he will receive his related services. Last week I was also sent a link
consisting of some activities and resources pertaining to the different related
services. Thereby, what LAUSD has done is place the onus of providing these
services on parents who are clearly not qualified to provide such support. Further,
the resources/activities are not individualized to address my son’s unique
needs or to assist him in making progress towards his IEP goals.
The harsh reality is that without
direct instruction through a distance learning model which includes all of his
service providers and his teacher, there is no doubt in my mind that my son
will significantly regress.
It is disheartening to see that other Districts have had their distance learning up and running since week two of the school closures, yet LAUSD is nowhere near that. All I hear is “we are trying to figure it out”, yet with every day that passes my child suffers the consequences. No attempts are being made to include parents in decisions through the IEP process. LAUSD needs understand that children with special needs are floundering and languishing. Every day that goes by that the District has not offered an appropriate program to our children, is not only another day of denying them FAPE but it is another day the District places them at risk for long-term harm.
I do the best I can by providing instruction to my son during school hours so as to maintain a routine, some form of structure and normalcy. However, in the back of my mind I know that he is getting farther and farther behind as each day passes due to the District’s failure to implement his IEP in an alternative format. He is not being prepared for the next grade level. He is losing all of those skills that he worked so hard to obtain. I see that he is regressing academically, behaviorally, socially, motorically, and emotionally. I am not a teacher or a qualified service provider. I cannot meet his needs all on my own. LAUSD needs to understand the impact that this is having on their most vulnerable population and do something about it now, rather than continuing just to give excuses, empty promises, and useless resources.
They have a responsibility to educate all students and we need to hold them to that.
The US Department of Education (USDOE) recently stated that school districts should not close or deny distance learning opportunities, particularly because they can be used to provide services to special education students. The USDOE made clear that school districts can effectively provide many special education services via modifications, such as through video and telephonic conferences. However, to date that has not happened for students with special needs in LAUSD.
The California Department of Education (CDE) has urged school
districts to continue to provide special education and related services as
outlined in the IEP through a distance learning model if they were able to do
so through alternative service delivery models as appropriate for each
student. Per CDE, educational and
support services provided should be commensurate with those identified in the
IEP for each student to ensure educational benefit.
What is clear to me is that I could
never satisfactorily serve the role of all of my son’s service providers and
his teacher. My son has a 1:1 behavior aide that works with him throughout his
school day due to challenges with remaining focused and on task, with self-regulation,
and non-compliance. He requires prompting every few minutes in order to stay on
task. This makes the task of teaching him, that much more challenging. I cannot
sit with him for the entirety of six hours per day and simultaneously work
remotely from home, and maintain my household. I’ve seen an increase in melt
downs, aggression, frustration and beginning symptoms of depression since the
school closures. LAUSD needs to really consider the implications of their
actions or inactions.
To end on a positive note, what I am finding useful as I attempt to tackle this immense task of homeschooling my son to the best of my ability, is maintaining structure in my home by sticking to a daily routine that consists of academic instruction and embedded breaks, utilizing educational applications, and maintaining open communication with my son regarding our current state of affairs which includes answering all of his questions and discussing his feelings about it.
I will do my part, yet I will continue to fight for all students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as required by law.
LAUSD is expected to give an update on Monday, March 23rd.
School board members from LAUSD have stated on twitter and other places that they are working on solutions to address the pressing concerns of their high-needs population, including students with disabilities. In these statements, there has been a consistent acknowledgment of the fact that LAUSD is committed to meeting the needs of students with disabilities, which is positive. However, the negative is that LAUSD has been very cursory in any details about how this could be accomplished.
Other school districts are likely to remain closed for a long period of time as well, and face similar challenges. As we have indicated here on this page, we have already seen some districts determine that they won’t provide distance learning to any students, because if they do so, they are without a doubt obligated to provide instruction and services to students with disabilities. This is a harmful, backwards approach that potentially takes education back to the days where students with disabilities were seen as “other,” as “uneducable,” as a drain on the resources that should be available for non-disabled students. This message places blame on students with disabilities for the districts’ decision not to provide anything to anyone, potentially creating division and backlash at a time when it is critical that we all come together.
LAUSD and other local school districts are facing challenging, difficult times for sure, as are all of us in this crisis time. The challenge should be for LAUSD and others to find creative, innovative and alternative solutions to ensure that ALL students are appropriately educated in these trying times, rather than to try to find ways to avoid providing services to students with disabilities. IEP meetings need to be held, so that teams can come together (via phone/video) and come up with creative solutions. We live in a time with access to immense technology, and with brilliant minds capable of thinking of innovative ways to use that technology for real solutions to the current problems in education. We need to be tapping into that innovation to ensure that every student has equitable access to educational benefits, and that students with disabilities are not left out of the equation and sent home with zero access to the supports they need.
We are here to help families navigate these difficult times. We are committed to supporting parents in protecting students’ rights, to working with teams to find solutions, and to advocating for a FAPE. Contact us with any questions.
March 20, 2020 Update on School Closures: Understanding the Obligations Related to IEP Meetings
We are living in unprecedented times. The concerns about the spread of the coronavirus and the resulting public health crisis have lead to a statewide stay at home order, and school closures have been implemented. Those school closures are likely to be longer term than we anticipated at first, possibly even until the end of the school year.
Parents of students with disabilities are faced with unique challenges in light of these school closures. While all parents are faced with unprecedented difficulties, forced to home-school their students for an unknown amount of time, sometimes with limited resources to do so, parents of kids with disabilities also have to worry about the services and supports that are missing. Students with disabilities rely on services to support their educational progress, and to address their unique needs. Without those services, parents fear regression and possibly irreparable harm.
Anytime there is a significant change to a disabled child’s educational program, the IEP process is the vehicle by which those changes should be decided. The IEP is the critical central component to educating students with disabilities. So it is no surprise that a pressing question in this time is whether IEP teams still need to meet when school closures are in effect.
An IEP meeting is appropriate anytime there is a change of placement.
Parents’ procedural safeguards place a great deal of importance on IEP meetings whenever there is a change of placement. The IEP process allows for parents to participate in teams that make placement decisions. IEP meetings about a change of placement allow for parents to meaningfully participate in decisions about services and goals that will be implemented in the new placement. Even in situations in which Districts have a right to change a student’s placement without parent consent (such as for an interim alternative placement due to behavior/expulsion issues for example), an IEP meeting is typically required first. And in some circumstances, after a change of placement has occurred, Districts are required to hold an IEP meeting in 30 days so that the team at the new placement can discuss suggested updates to goals and services with Parents.
School closures mean that students are educated at home. This is effectively a change of placement. Instruction in the home setting, although unusual, is actually already a possible placement on the continuum of educational placements for students with disabilities.
While in this circumstance, school closures were necessary due to our current health crisis, this does to change the fact that they effectively result in a change of placement. There are important and logical reasons why an IEP meeting should be held to discuss this change, similar to why a 30 day IEP meeting would be held after a child moves to a new placement in normal circumstances. Doing so would allow parents and the team to discuss implementation of supports and services in this new placement so that the child could continue to make progress.
There is already a precedent for holding Districts to IEP requirements during school closures.
Guidance from the federal government has previously been issued on this matter. In 2012, school districts were faced with school closures due to Hurricane Sandy, and had difficulty trying to meet all of the requirements for IEPs. The federal Department of Education was contacted for guidance, and on November 20, 2012, OSERS issued a letter documenting its position.
It is important to note that OSERS first commended the school districts for the efforts made during difficult times to work to ensure the provision of special education. Throughout the letter, it was clear that OSERS fully understood that the school districts implementing school closures due to this natural disaster were facing difficult circumstances out of their control, and were doing their best under such circumstances.
IEPs are still required
With that being said, the letter clearly stated that the requirements of the IDEA were still in effect, including timelines for assessments and IEP meetings. OSERS noted that for assessments, the IDEA permits states to establish their own timelines for evaluations, and that New York, the state in question, could therefore establish a different timeframe legislatively if necessary to address the concerns for districts whose operations were significantly impacted.
As to IEP meetings, the letter made it clear that the timelines for IEP meetings still applied, but highlighted the fact that there was already flexibility in the law that could be utilized in these circumstances. First, parents and districts were allowed to agree to modify an IEP without a full meeting. Second, the law allowed for alternate means of participation for parents in IEP meetings, such as through conference telephone calls.
This letter is instructive to districts in the current situation of school closures. While it is not possible due to the concerns over spread of the COVID-19 virus and stay-at-home orders in place for IEP meetings to take place in person, alternate means such as conference calls or video conferencing are certainly still possible, and would enable compliance with IEP requirements.
During school closures, the collaborative IEP process is more critical than ever.
Congress considers IEPs to be the “cooperative vehicle” by which appropriate educational outcomes for students with disabilities can be achieved, and in this unprecedented time of school closures, such cooperation is even more critical. The IEP process is designed in the law to be collaborative, with Districts and Parents to be equal team members in decisions regarding a child’s program. Parents are recognized as having significant information relevant to the child’s needs to provide to the team, and to have the right to meaningfully participate in the process.
If ever there was a time for collaborative team meetings, it is now.
Students with disabilities all across the country suddenly had a change in placement. The situation leading to school closures is out of the district’s control. No one claims it will be easy to fully implement a FAPE, or that it is easy to deal with all of the other factors that districts are faced with in this time of crisis. But working together, the IEP teams – including service providers, parents, teachers, and district administrators, can do it. Teams can come up with alternate means for implementation of services and supports.
Now is the time for innovation and unprecedented solutions to unprecedented problems. The IEP meeting is the vehicle by which parents and districts can come together to develop such solutions. Already, we have seen stories from across the country of schools and families working together to ensure that IEP goals are still addressed. If some districts are finding ways to do it, others can too. If school closures are going to be long term, the IEP meetings should be mandated to plan for how FAPE can be provided during that time.
Many families rely on free meals provided to their kids while at school. With the decision to implement school closures due to concerns about the coronavirus, districts were faced with how to meet these needs. Many districts as well as nonprofit organizations will be providing daily meals (possibly both breakfast and lunch, or one grab-and-go lunch) to school-age children during school closures.
We will try to keep this list up to date throughout the school closures in order to provide families with information about where to go for meals.
LAUSD providing free meals for students
LAUSD: providing free meals for kids “grab and go” lunches at 60 different locations throughout the district, beginning on Wednesday, March 18th. Go to this link for more information.
Nonprofits and Others providing free meals:
The Dream Center: this nonprofit is providing free meals for LAUSD students beginning on Monday, March 16th. The hours are between 7:30am and 6:30pm. The Dream Center is located at 2310 Bellevue Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90026.
Restaurants providing Free Meals:
*Note that due to the Mayor’s ordered restrictions, restaurants in Los Angeles are only open for take-out or delivery at this time due to the need for social distancing measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
El Torito: This chain restaurant announced that at all locations, kids 12 and under can eat for free from the kids menu during school closures. El Torito posted a message stating that it hopes this will “help make this period a little less stressful” for families.
Hugo’s Restaurants: With locations in Studio City and West Hollywood, Hugo’s announced on Instagram that it was offering free meals for kids 12 and under from the kids menu during the LAUSD closure.
The Attic on Broadway: This local restaurant in Long Beach is offered free meals for kids and breakfast burritos for kids 18 and under during the Long Beach USD school closure.
Other Districts offering free meals:
*Note that some districts explicitly state that free meals for kids are being provided to anyone under 18 -not just to their own students.
Beverly Hills USD: providing free to-go lunches available for any student that receives a District provided lunch. These can be picked up at Horrace Mann Elementary beginning on Monday, March 23rd, between 10:30am and 12:00pm.
Conejo Valley USD: providing free sack lunches from the district’s kitchen vans, which will be located at specific sites beginning on March 16th. For location information go to this link.
Cypress School District: families can pick up free lunch and breakfast for the following day at any school site in the district between 11:30am and 12:30pm, and no paperwork is required (child must be present).
Downey USD: plans to provide free meals for kids, but has not yet released details at this time.
Glendale USD: will be serving free grab and go meals at specific sites beginning March 24th. Details not yet made available.
Fullerton School District: providing free breakfast and lunch during the week of March 16th through curbside pick up at specific schools. Go to the district’s webpage for more information.
Inglewood USD: will serve free meals to all students between the hours of 9:30am to 11:30am beginning on March 16, 2020 at specific locations including Woodworth-Monroe School, Hudnall Elementary, Highland Elementary, and Oak Street Elementary, as well as by a mobile unit between 9:45am to 10:45am at Bennett-Kew Elementary and between 11:00am to 12:30pm at Worthington Elementary.
Lancaster School District: providing free bagged meals for both breakfast and lunch between the hours of 9:00am and 1:00pm. All students are asked to go to their home school to pick up meals.
Las Virgines USD: providing packaged free breakfast between 8:00am and 9:00am and packaged lunches between 11:00am and 1:00pm at Calabasas High, Agoura High, Lindero Canyon Middle, AE Wright Middle, and AC Stelle Middle. Meals are provided to students who qualify for free/reduced lunch.
Long Beach USD: providing free meals for kids for breakfast and lunch during the first week of the closure. No paperwork is required, and meals can be picked up during specific time periods. Go to this link for more information.
Orange School District: providing free grab and go breakfast between 8:00am and 10:00am and grab and go lunch between 10:00am and 12:00pm at Handy, California, Esplanade, Taft, Yorba, Lampson, Portola, Orange High, El Modena High and Canyon High. There will also be a bus distribution location for meals.
Oxnard Union High School District: will serve free meals for kids on a grab and go basis every day from 10:00am to 1:00pm at Adolfo Camarillo, Channel Islands, Hueneme, Oxnard, Pacifica, Rio Mesa and Rio Vista.
Palmdale School District: will serve free meals for kids in a drive-through pick up style, with breakfast between 7:30am and 8:30am and lunch between 11:30am and 12:30pm at specific elementary schools including Tamarisk, Mesquite, Mazanita, Quail Valley, Yucca, and Summerwind. They will also have a food truck available at the same times at McAdam Park. Meals are available for anyone 18 years old and younger.
Riverside Unified School District: providing drive through free meals for kids available for students on weekdays. Breakfast is available between 7:30am and 8:30am, and lunch is available 11:00am through 12:30pm. The locations are any RUSD elementary, middle and high school, or the Bobby Bonds Community Center.
San Gabriel USD: offering free meals for kids grab and go lunch to all children ages 18 and younger in the community. Children do not have to be enrolled in the district to receive a meal. Child must be present. Hours are 11:30am to 12:30pm, and the location is at Smith Park.
South Pasadena USD: providing free meals for kids breakfast and lunch to all children in the community. Meals are distributed across from the South Pasadena High basketball gym, with a drive through style set up. Elementary age children can come between 9:00am and 10:00am and secondary age children or family with multi-age children can come between 10:00am and 11:00am. Meals include both breakfast and lunch.
Torrance USD: all students can visit specific sites to obtain free measl for kids breakfast and lunch each day between 8:00am and 1:00pm. Two meals will be provided per day to anyone under 18, regardless of if they are a TUSD student. Children must be present to receive the meal. The locations are Torrance Elementary, Carr Elementary, Edison Elementary, J.H. Hull Middle., Magruder Middle and Shery High. Note that Shery is breakfast only.
Whittier City School District: offering free meals for kids grab and go lunches are available between 11:00am and 1:00pm at Dexter Middle, Edwards Middle and Andrews K-8.
The good, the bad, and the ugly of impact of District determinations for continuity of learning services during school closures.
Throughout the Los Angeles area, families are dealing with the impact of loss of services due to school closures in response to the concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
Navigating these uncertain times is difficult for all of us, and places unique challenges and impacts all of the parents that have unique burdens on their shoulders. The impact on parents of students who have disabilities and receive IEP services from their school districts is even more challenging due to closures. There is so much uncertainty about whether students will have access to any services, and whether home based learning opportunities will include provision for the continuation of skill-development in the specific areas that are addressed by related service providers.
What we know is that all students need continuity in their learning. This is the reason why so many districts have prioritized making learning opportunities available during the school closures at all. What we also know is that the kids with disabilities are even more vulnerable to the negative impact of disruption. Parents are left wondering how to best support continuity and access help in those service areas.
What about my child’s speech and language goals? Will he fall behind in development without speech services?
What about my child’s motor skills? How will she continue to progress without OT?
While it is true that this is a challenging and unprecedented time, and that for the most part what we have seen is districts that are doing the best they can to meet very challenging demands in the face of that uncertainty, the question surrounding provision of special education during school closures remains an important one.
We don’t know all of the answers yet as to how districts are handling these questions, as many districts do not have a plan that includes addressing special education and related services. It may be that for some students, the solution will not be available until the closures are done, and possible compensatory education can be addressed.
In the meantime, it is important as parents are digesting the available information from their districts about the closures to understand the impact of the decisions those districts made about distance learning.
The federal government has taken a position on whether special education services should continue to be made available during the school closures, and that position implies that if districts do not provide formal distance learning (instruction, curriculum, etc) to all students, then they are not obligated to continue special education services. This position has already been disputed by civil rights advocates, who maintain that all students with disabilities continue to have a right to a FAPE.
At the current time, the guidance from the federal government has caused some districts to carefully word what they are providing in order to avoid obligation for a FAPE during the school closures. Therefore, it is important for parents to understand the different terminology and what it may mean for immediate access to services at this time. Keep in mind that we are not providing this information in order to imply that districts are not actually obligated to provide a FAPE in certain circumstances, but only to give families guidance on what to expect based on the statements from their districts.
Distance Learning (and related terms) versus Optional Opportunities (or Enrichment Activities)
If a school district uses a term like “distance learning,” “remote instruction,” “online curriculum” or something similar – a term that clearly indicates that instruction and assignments are formally being provided, then the district is without a doubt obligated to provide equal access to such education to students with a disability, including providing those students with a FAPE.
If a school district uses a term like “optional learning resources” or “enrichment activities,” then it is less clear – based on the guidance from the federal government at least – that they have to provide special education students with continuation of their instruction and services. Again, this is not the interpretation of organizations like COPAA.
The Good: Planning for Continuation of Special Education
Some school districts have plans in place that at least acknowledge the inclusion of special education and related services in what they are trying to provide during the closures.
For example, a district’s plan may state that related service providers will work to provide the service minutes in the IEP through alternate formats that are being utilized for home instruction. Other districts have stated that the case carrier assigned will work with parents to develop a plan to address service delivery models. Some districts are working on providing home activities and instructions for implementation of skill-building in related service areas so that students can continue to work on IEP goals while at home.
While it may be ideal for IEP meetings to have been held to make these determinations, the reality is that decisions were made quickly regarding the closures. These districts fall in the “good” category because as compared with other districts, they are at least making an attempt to consider special education services in their plans to deliver remote learning opportunities.
The Bad: Ignoring Special Education Services
The majority of districts whose plans we have reviewed fall into this category. While these districts state that they are providing distance learning, and while some even have robust plans for the delivery of instruction and assignments, there is no mention whatsoever of if and how special education will be delivered.
This means that the overall district plan simply has not taken special education kids into consideration. Parents are left wondering if service providers will communicate with them, if any support will be given for those areas, and what the impact will be on their child in the long run.
The Ugly: Planning with the Intention of Stopping Special Education Services
Several districts appear to be very intentional in the language used to talk about their plans during the school closure so that they do not become obligated – based on the federal guidance – to provide anything to special education students. These districts use phrases like “optional learning opportunities” or “enrichment activities” to describe what will be provided to students. By doing so, they are not providing instruction per se, and therefore are hoping not to be held to the necessity of providing equal access to students with disabilities.
What is most interesting is that a review of these district’s plans and resources indicates that for some, the “activities” they provide to parents are very similar to the curriculum activities provided to students in the districts that are providing ongoing remote instruction, with the exception that the assignments may not be graded and there is not ongoing teacher communication.
What this means as a practical matter for families
This does not mean that parents shouldn’t be proactive in asking about services and support from related service providers during home instruction due to closure, no matter what category the districts fall into. But it does mean from a practical standpoint that districts may not be prepared to provide services to students with disabilities during the closure, and that even with proactive engagement on the part of families, the districts that are providing no home instruction or only “optional” activities are likely to deny any services during this time. The reality is, many students with disabilities will miss crucial supports that are needed for continued progress towards their IEP goals.
We are here to help! Contact us if your child is impacted by school closures and you need assistance during this uncertain time.
Schools all over the Los Angeles area are closing due to concerns about public health and safety related to the coronavirus.
UPDATE March 23rd: On Monday, March 23, 2020, LAUSD issued a statement via a letter that was sent to all parents in the district. The statement updated the status of school closures in the district, indicating that schools will be closed until at least May 1st. Superintendent Beutner stated in the letter that more details would be provided later in the day as to how the district was working to assist all students to continue to learn. In statements over the weekend preceding this letter, Beutner indicated that the district was working to put plans in place to address specific concerns, including how to meet the needs of kids with disabilities.
UPDATE March 19th: On March 19, 2020, the city of Los Angeles issued a stay at home order that impacts businesses and other entities throughout the city. This order is in place through at least April 17th. Also on March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom announced a statewide stay at home order for all of California, making California the first state to issue such order. The California statewide stay at home order is in place as long as necessary with no exact end date stated. These orders will impact school closures – schools that had anticipated dates of return in late March or in early to mid April are expected to be closed longer due to these orders.
UPDATE March 17th: On March 17, 2020, during remarks on the state of the coronavirus crisis, Governor Newsom stated that it is likely that many schools throughout California will not reopen for this school year. It is unclear what this will mean in terms of completing the instruction for students this year yet.
Below is the list of school closures in the Los Angeles area in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The concerns about the coronavirus are causing quickly evolving changes, and we will keep this post updated as often as we can.
For each school district, we have identified the projected end date of the closure according to available information at this time. We have also briefly summarized the pertinent “need to know” information for each school closure.
We have also developed a guide to help parents better understand the impact of information such as whether distance learning is offered, available at this link.
We are working on also including links to each individual district’s website for further information about their response to the coronavirus.
Is your district in the Los Angeles area missing from this list or do you have access to more current information? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We are striving to provide the families in the Los Angeles area impacted by school closures with as much up to date information as possible.
School Closures Details for Los Angeles area schools:
Last update: March 23, 2020
Beverly Hills Unified School District: Closed through April 6th
Distance learning provided? Yes. “Home Learning” to begin March 24th, with teachers communicating about expectations for the week. Curriculum will be provided for all core classes and electives.
Special education provided? Maybe. BUSD’s statement is that staff will make best effort to deliver special education and related services at the minutes in the IEP through utilizing the “platforms available” (i.e. what they are using for distance learning). IEP teams will determine possible compensatory education when school resumes.
Burbank Unified School District: Originally Closed through March 27th UPDATE: As of March 23rd, Burbank schools are estimated to be closed through May 4, 2020
Distance learning provided? Yes. The Burbank district moved to a “flexible learning model” with online curriculum and learning centers. The available information was lacking in specificity.
Special education provided? Originally not clear. No information was made available at the time that the closure was announced as to whether special education and related services will be provided.
UPDATE: On March 23, 2020, Burbank Unified School District sent a letter to parents regarding the extension of the school closures to May 4th. In that letter, it was stated that the District was working to put plans in place to address the needs of students with disabilities. Specifically, the District stated that it would implement IEP services to “the greatest extent possible” using alternate format/means during distance learning. The District indicated that in the week following spring break, the case carrier for each student’s IEP would contact the family to discuss implementation.
Conejo Valley Unified School District: closed through March 20th
Distance learning provided? No. The Conejo Valley district states that it made the decision not to provide distance learning opportunities to students to continue their curriculum during the closure because it would not be able to meet its responsibility to ensure equal access.
Special education provided? No. The district’s statement regarding the decision not to offer distance learning appears to indicate that the determination was made in order to avoid having to provide special education, in light of the guidance language from the federal government.
What is provided? “Optoinal activities will be avaialble to students” online.
Cypress School District: closed through March 26th
Distance learning provided? Yes. The Cypress district’s statement indicates that to support student learning, lessons and educational materials will be made available to all students in electronic and printed form.
Special education provided? Unclear. There is no information available about the provision of special education and related services.
Downey Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes. The Downey district stated that it had a plan for continuity of learning during the cessation of on-site instruction. Materials were provided to elementary school students in packets. Middle and High School students in Downey were to be provided with instruction and materials online through Google Classroom.
Special education provided? Unclear. No information is available about the provision of special education and related services.
El Segundo Unified School District: closed through April 10th
Distance learning provided? Yes. The El Segundo district stated that “remote instruction” will be provided by teachers from March 16th through April 3rd (the remainder of the closure is spring break).
Special education provided? Unclear. No information is available about the provision of special education and related services.
Glendale Unified School District: closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? Not clear. The Glendale district is extending its spring break for an additional week, after which “remote enrichment activities” will be provided. Elsewhere, the term “remote learning model” is also used. It is unclear.
Special education provided? Probably not. The use of the term “enrichment activities” may be intended to avoid providing special education, in light of the federal guidance.
Fullerton School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Sort of. Each student was reportedly provided with a 5 day “at home learning plan.” However, in its press release, the Fullerton district stated that this was an “optional” plan, and that it was also providing “optional learning resources.”
Special education provided? Probably not. Labeling the at home learning as “optional” may be purposeful in order to avoid providing special education in light of the language of the federal guidance.
Hermosa Beach City School District: closed through April 13th
Distance learning provided? Yes. Instruction is to be provided remotely via email, google classroom, or other electronic formats. Materials were also provided by teachers to support ongoing instruction.
Special education provided? Unclear. No information is available about the provision of special education and related services.
Inglewood Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes. Self-guided learning activities are available on the district’s website. A “learning workbook” was issued to students through 8th grade. High school students in Inglewood were provided with instructional materials.
Special education provided? Unclear. No information is available about the provision of special education and related services.
Lancaster School District: Closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? No. The only mention of this is a statement that the staff is working to make “recommendations” for parents to use at home.
Special education provided? Probably not. If the district is not providing any formal distance learning plan, it most likely does not have a plan in place for the provision of special education and related services.
Las Virgines Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes, although somewhat unclear. The Las Virgines district referenes “distance learning” and “online engagement” with the class, but elsewhere refers to this as “distance activities.”
Special education provided? Unclear. The reference to “distance activities” may be an attempt to avoid having to provide equal access and special education services.
Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD): closed for at least two weeks, beginning March 16th UPDATE: As of March 23rd, LAUSD schools will be closed until at least May 1st.
Distance learning provided? Yes. At the time of the superintendent’s announcement, he made it clear that there would be a plan for curriculum and instruction for each classroom, and online instruction provided where possible. PBS is also working with LAUSD to make curriculum-based content avaialble to students who may not have access to devices in order to participate in online instruction.
Special education provided? Unclear. The superintendent has stated that LAUSD realizes its obligation to meet the needs of its students with disabilities, but has been unclear on how services might be provided. The written statement references only that special education centers are closed, but that families have access to regional centers.
Long Beach Unified School District: closed through April 17th
Distance learning provided? Unclear. It does appear as through LBUSD intends to provide distance learning, as it has referenced plans for continuing instruction during the closure. No information yet available.
Special education provided? No information yet available.
Manhattan Beach Unified School District: closed through April 13th
Distance learning provided? Yes. MBUSD is providing its students with “remote instruction.”
Special education provided? Yes. MBUSD’s plan includes having the case carrier for each child with an IEP contact parents to provide a plan for implementation of the IEP through a “different delivery model” during the closure.
Norwalk La-Mirada Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Unclear. The available information at this time is only that NLMUSD plans to develop “appropriate at-home enrichment activities and distance learning to ensure continuiety of the educational program.”
Special education provided? Unclear. There is no information available about the provision of special education and related services.
Ojai Unified School District: closed through March 20th
Distance learning provided? Unclear. The Ojai district referred to the fact that additional guidance from the state was to be made available on Tuesday, March 17th, and that it would rely on that guidane to develop possible distance learning.
Special education provided? Unclear. Information has not yet been made available about a plan.
Orange Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes. Teachers will provide remote learning activities online. The district indicated that every child needs a device connected to the internet, and provided resources for access.
Special education provided? Unclear. No information is available on the provision of special education and related services.
Oxnard Union High School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes. However, the latest information simply stated “Distance Learning Plan to Come.”
Special education provided? Unclear. A plan has not yet been made available.
Palmdale School District: closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? No. Palmdale School District has stated that it determined providing distance learning to be “not feasible at this point,” referring to concerns about equitable access due to students who did not have devices or access to the internet.
Special education provided? Unlikely, given that there is no plan for distance learning.
Redondo Beach Unified School District: closed through April 10th
Distance learning provided? Yes. Teachers will provide instruction remotely to all students.
Special education provided? Yes. The district has stated that all students will hear from their teachers on a consistent basis, including “special education teachers and service providers.”
Riverside Unified School District: closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? No. There is no plan for continuation of instruction.
Special education provided? No. The district stated that services for students with special education will be discontinued during the closure.
What is available? Despite stating that instruction would not be provided, the Riverside district does have a web page with “remote learning activities” that includes packets and materials to “maintain skills” during the closure.
Saddleback Valley Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Most likely not. The available information only states that the district is working to provide information to help families support student learning.
Special education provided? Most likely not. There is no information about special education during the closure.
San Gabriel Unified School District: closed through April 3rd (includes already scheduled spring break)
Distance learning provided? No. San Gabriel is only providing “optional” resources.
Special education provided? Most likely not. The use of the word “optional” in reference to what it is providing is possibly intended to avoid providing special education during the closure, in light of the language from the federal guidance.
What is available? The district is providing “Optional High Quality Online Learning Resources” on its website
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District: closed until April 20th (includes two weeks of spring break)
Distance learning provided? Yes. Materials provided for continuity of learning, with no planned curriculum for the two weeks of spring break.
Special education provided? Not clear. No information regarding the provision of special education and related services during the closure.
South Pasadena Unified School District: closed until April 3rd
Distance learning provided? Not yet. The district provided information about “optional” learning activities, and stated that it was waiting for futher guidance from CDE on remote learning and independent study options.
Special education provided? Not yet. The district also stated it was waiting for CDE guidance on provision of special education services.
Torrance Unified School District: closed through March 27th
Distance learning provided? Yes. The district identified a variety of modalities by which schools will continue to provide instruction to students.
Special education provided? No information yet available.
Whittier City School District: closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? Yes. The Whittier district has a plan in place for providing continuity of instruction. Resources were provided along with a continuity plan by teachers for elementary school students, and older students will complete lessons via google classroom or email.
Special education provided? Unclear. There is no mention of the provision of special education and related services.
Wiseburn Unified School District: closed through April 3rd
Distance learning provided? No information available
Special education provided? No information available