The goal of the special education reopening plan is to ensure that students with disabilities have equitable and continuous access to the learning community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As reopening occurs, the special education plan will guide district-wide efforts to ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive access to a deliberately designed, rigorous and enriching curriculum that challenges them and meets their individual need, regardless of whether instruction is delivered virtually, in person, or through a hybrid model.
Throughout the reopening process, the District remains committed to ensuring the balance between the provision of a free and appropriate public education, and the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those providing special education services. To the extent possible, until schools return to normal operating conditions, each student with a disability will be provided the special education programs and related services identified in the student’s IEP with reference to the district-wide continuity of learning plan. The delivery of services will remain flexible and informed by contingency planning for various types of instructional models, including hybrid and virtual modes of delivery.
Students with disabilities will continue to have access to opportunities for instruction alongside students without disabilities to the greatest extent possible consistent with their IEPs. Students who are placed in integrated programming will participate in the integrated setting as outlined in the district-wide continuity of learning plan. The CSE/CPSE process will be employed to determine adjustments to the least restrictive environment where necessary and appropriate to ensure equity in access for individual students.
Consistent with State Department of Education recommendations, the district will prioritize high need students for the delivery of in person services. The prioritization will closely align to the continuum of services with priority afforded to students placed within the most restrictive settings within the district programs. The district will use best efforts to ensure that during implementation of district-wide hybrid models, the most high-need students within district are prioritized to receive in person instruction consistent with the frequency outlined on their IEP. The CSE will continue to partner with program providers to ensure continuity of services for students whose needs are served in out of district programs.
The needs of students with disabilities that are considered medically fragile will be considered on an individual basis. Consistent with state guidance, the planning process will involve consultation with outside medical providers, school health services personnel, special education providers and administration. Where appropriate, alternate plans will be created to ensure that the needs of the child are met while keeping a safe social distance. If the parents/guardians choose not to send their child back to school, the plan will include full remote instruction consistent with the district-wide continuity of learning plan.
The CSE/CPSE will prepare contingency plans, with reference to the district-wide continuity of learning plan, to address remote learning needs in the event of potential future intermittent or extended school closures. Programs will be implemented to the extent that the district-wide continuity of learning plan contemplates synchronous instruction. Related and therapeutic services will be provided synchronously with parental consent via a district approved platform unless an alternative, asynchronous mode of delivery is deemed more appropriate and agreed upon.
During state mandated closures, the district aligned with state and federal guidance and used best efforts to ensure the provision of a free and appropriate education for all students with disabilities. Upon reopening, consideration will be given to the provision of proactive, additional services to students who are deemed to be at high risk for loss in skill due to the mandated closures and prior to initial state authorized reopening of schools. The district distinguishes additional services that are proactively mitigative in nature from compensatory services that result from a failure of the district to provide a free and appropriate education during state mandated closures. If it is determined through procedural due process that a student experienced a loss of skills as a result of the district’s failure to provide FAPE and therefore, requires compensation of services, the CSE will ensure that compensatory services are implemented per the terms of relevant agreements with reference to the district-wide continuity of learning plan.
The District is committed to ensuring that the provision of services to students with disabilities is evidenced through clear and consistent documentation of implementation. The District will leverage existing student information platforms to maintain and retain documentation regarding the change in student needs due to the period of remote instruction and return to traditional classroom environments. Specific internal operating protocols will inform how formative assessment and progress monitoring documentation will be maintained and communicated to the CSE/CPSE for consideration when making individualized determinations of student needs, including transition services. The same district-approved student information systems will be utilized to memorialize collaboration with parents and caregivers, in their preferred language or mode of communication. The same practices and documentation protocols will be utilized when additional services are provided.
Throughout the reopening process the District will adhere to existing policies and practices that ensure the timely identification, location and evaluation of all students suspected of having a disability. The District is mindful of the impact that school closures might have had on all students and will continue to adhere to the relevant federal and state guidance regarding the identification of students with disabilities.
The District will continue to follow existing procedure and practices relating to the referral of students to the CSE/CPSE. As part of the referral process, the CSE/CPSE will take into consideration all factors that might have influenced the student’s progress during school closures due to COVID-19. While the District will continue to refer students suspected of having a disability to the CSE/CPSE, a referral will not be warranted where the reason for underperformance is due to school closures and a change in the provision of education.
The District will continue to use best efforts to ensure that special education evaluations (i.e., initial and reevaluations) are conducted consistently with state and federal guidance and within required timelines. Available technology will be leveraged to facilitate remote evaluation where appropriate and consistent with testing fidelity and written parental consent. Determinations as to whether a specific evaluation will be conducted remotely for a student continue to be made on a case-by-case basis by appropriately certified or licensed professionals employed or contracted with the District and with reference to the specific evaluation administration guides.
The CSE/CPSE will conduct an inventory of records to determine which students are due for an initial evaluation or reevaluation. The District will follow established protocols for expediting evaluations that are delayed due to COVID-19 related closures, including increased evaluation planning and parent/caregiver participation and agreement.
In consideration of the health, safety, and wellbeing of all stakeholders, all CSE/CPSE meetings will continue to be held remotely via a district approved online platform or teleconference until regular school operations resume. The District will follow established protocols to access online meeting platforms and teleconferencing.
The District will provide clear, ongoing, and shared communication and collaboration throughout the reopening process to ensure equitable access to special education programs and services. Collaboration through accessible channels of communication with parents and caregivers is at the core of the special education reopening plan. In addition to the communication efforts available to all students, parents of students with disabilities will be kept informed regarding the identification, evaluation, educational placement, and provision of services to their child.
To ensure meaningful engagement regarding the provision of special education services, the District will continue to ensure that parents understand the school’s efforts to provide services consistent with the CSE/CPSE recommendations and to monitor student progress. Specifically, the District will hold regularly scheduled meetings with parents and caregivers to communicate relevant information. The District will additionally seek input using targeted surveys sent out to the community. Teachers will be the first point of contact for communicating the logistical aspects of hybrid and online learning. Specific district-wide documentation protocols will be developed and implemented as it relates to parent/caregiver communication. All parent communication will be conducted in the parent’s preferred language.
The District will continue to provide the procedural safeguard notice to parents through the regular mail and via online access. Consistent with existing practices and procedures, the District will continue to provide parents with prior written notice in a reasonable time before a change in the identification, evaluation, educational placement, or provision of FAPE to the students. In some instances, the District will provide the procedural safeguard notice, prior written notice and CPSE/CSE meeting notices via email, if the parent has provided written consent to receive such documents by email.
Consistent with federal and state guidance, the District will not provide prior written notice if instruction or related services continue to be delivered remotely or through a hybrid model. The State has clearly established that remote learning and telepractice is an alternate mode of instruction delivery and not a change in the student’s educational placement. The District will utilize the program review meeting or amendment process where circumstances require substantive changes to the student’s educational placement.
The District will continue to serve the diverse educational needs of students with disabilities through the continuum of services that are provided in a variety of settings. The CSE/CPSE will ensure the frequent interaction with representatives from all applicable school settings to collectively review service delivery and student progress monitoring. The District will conduct ongoing outreach efforts ensure streamlined communication with out of district providers of programs and services. Through these communications, the district will remain informed of the planned activities for the nature and delivery of instruction and related services.
The District will actively work with providers representing a variety of settings to identify shared resources, materials and technology that might be available to students as appropriate. When a student is provided a program or receives services through a contacted provider, the provider will retain responsibility for the continued documentation of implementation and progress monitoring, and the provision of such documentation to the District. The District will consider the documentation when making individualized determinations as to whether changes to the IEP recommendation are needed. The District will ensure open lines of communication between program providers to coordinate efforts in meeting individual student needs.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the District has prioritized access to necessary instructional and technological supports that meet the unique needs of students with disabilities. Recognizing that varying modes of instructional delivery require flexibility in implementation, the District will continue to proactively ensure that the individual needs of students with disabilities are met during the school reopening process.
The district will continue to review and refine instructional practices as related to the provision of necessary accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities to progress in the general education curriculum. In the integrated setting, providers will continue to ensure differentiation of general education lessons with reference to the district-wide continuity of learning plan and based on each individual student’s IEP. Accommodations, or alterations in the way tasks and assignments are presented, will continue as outlined on the IEP where rationally related to the mode of instructional delivery. Provision of accommodations might be adjusted where necessary and appropriate to account for changes in the mode of instruction (e.g. in-person, hybrid or virtual). Modifications to the learning expectations will be implemented where appropriate and consistent with a student’s individual plan and in consideration of the mode of instruction. Supplementary aids and services will be provided as outlined on each IEP to enable students with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with the least restrictive environment. Students with disabilities will continue to have access to supplementary aids and services that meet their unique instructional and social emotional needs as related to varying modes of instructional delivery and in consideration of the school-wide continuity of learning plan.
The District will ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive access to their working technology and accompanying programs. The District will follow established protocols that detail the availability of assistive technology services necessary to directly assist as student in the selection, acquisition or use of an assistive technology device. The CSE/CPSE will continue to utilize existing protocols to determine if an individual student requires assistive technology beyond what the District has provided the general education population.