Should your IEP Change Due to the Pandemic and Distance Learning?


IEPs during the Pandemic

As we head into a new school year that has even more unknowns than the spring, many parents are being told that their child’s IEP must change to reflect what is happening.

First, let’s review. At the time of this writing, there has not been any federal guidance since March. At that time, the guidance was “no waivers to IDEA, IDEA still stands.” You can read that Federal Guidance here.

And, a reminder that states can do more than what IDEA calls for, but not less.

Ok, everyone with me so far? Good.

Your Starting Point with COVID Learning

As we head into the new school year, first you should do 3 things.

Now that you’ve done that, you should have a clearer picture of what your child’s education will or should look like. And perhaps your school has contacted you to change your child’s IEP, or you are wondering if you should contact them.

Ask yourself this: What changes are they proposing? What changes would I like to make to the IEP? Are these changes adding something or removing something?

If Services Decrease during COVID Learning

Because what I’m seeing is this–that districts are decreasing or removing goals, removing supports and services, etc. None of the proposed changes that I’ve reviewed have been to increase anything. And that’s concerning.

Hey, I get it. Circumstances may dictate that some services cannot be implemented right now. However, that does not automatically mean that it should be removed from the IEP.

The same goes for goals, in my professional opinion. Sure, my son is not likely to achieve some of these goals due to regression and a decrease in services. But, we can make note of that in the IEP.

The bottom line is that it comes down to compliance and accountability. Sure, if there are no waivers to IDEA per the US Dept. of Ed, technically a school district could be found in violation of not following an IEP. However, having something in writing alleviating them of certain things will take care of that.

As an example, my son, under normal circumstances, does a lot of CBI (community based instruction). He goes on 3-4 outings a week and has IEP goals to achieve related to community participation. They have not done any CBI since February due to the pandemic. The only outings he has done with me are medical appointments.

Needless to say, he has likely regressed on his progress toward CBI goals. Still, that doesn’t warrant removing them or adjusting them. The time to adjust them will be when his class can do CBI again. His baselines will need to be adjusted, but that isn’t something we do until we get back to normal.

And, on his IEP it is listed as a support and service. Still, I do not recommend agreeing to remove any supports and services. A simple IEP no-meet addendum, listing which supports and services cannot be implemented due to the pandemic, and that you expect them to return once it is feasible. If this truly is the district’s plan, to suspend a support/service vs removing it altogether, they should have no problem handling it this way.

Make COVID Changes in Writing

It makes me nervous as we are heading into a huge economic recession, to be removing things from IEPs. I just have flashbacks of the “Corbett Cuts” here 10 years ago, when school districts had to make extreme cuts to their budget. It was impossible to get anything added to IEPs during that time. So just leave it there.

The same should work in reverse. Due to a student’s needs changing, and their educational environment changing, supports may need to be added to the IEP. However, do the same thing. Propose a no-meet IEP addendum with the changes, and make note that this is only for the period of time that the child is learning at home.

IEP Placement Change

The above scenarios make the assumption that your child is doing what the rest of the district is doing.

That does not hold true for all children. Some children with IEPs will be attending school 5 days a week even though their peers may only be attending 2 or 3. Some will stay home for their learning even though their peers are attending in-person learning.

In these instances, a placement change thus changes to the IEP, is warranted. Just be clear (in writing!) as to what you are agreeing to, and for what duration. You want it to be as painless as possible to get that IEP back if it was working for your child.

Planning for Smoother Transitions

If we look 3-6-9 months down the road, it makes sense in most cases to keep the IEP intact as written. Sure, many kids will need new evaluations to determine new baselines, but removing or decreasing IEP goals, or removing supports and services just because school is going to look different this fall doesn’t make sense. There are simpler solutions (IEP no meet addendums) that satisfy everyone’s concerns.

Good luck and you can always post your personal questions in our Facebook group.