5 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW RIGHT NOW:

  1. Under SB 98, every special education student’s IEP must include directions for how the IEP will be provided under emergency conditions — including a pandemic. Your IEP must now clearly articulate how a student’s support services and accommodations will be delivered specific to distance learning.
  2. Schools must provide daily live interaction with teachers and peers during distance learning for instruction, progress monitoring, and maintaining school connectedness. 
  3. All regularly scheduled IEP meetings must now include the SB 98 addendum, even if things are going well.
  4. The IEP should make clear what services and accommodations are specific to distance learning, and which reflect a permanent change to the IEP.
  5. If the district removes services and accommodations from your child’s IEP because they’re no longer appropriate due to distance learning, new accommodations must be added to address the unique challenges of virtual learning.
     

 

When we transitioned to distance learning at the start of the pandemic, many public school students — especially students with IEPs — had to navigate missing resources and services, negatively impacted curriculums, overworked teachers (and parents), and learning regressions. However, SB 98, a new trailer bill attached to the California State Budget for 2020–2021, has some parents and educators feeling hopeful about distance learning for the new school year. Our legal advocate and special education attorney, Grace Clark, has the lowdown:

 

  1. According to SB 98, an IEP now must include, “a description of the means by which the individualized education program will be provided under emergency conditions . . . in which instruction or services, or both, cannot be provided to the pupil either at the school or in person for more than 10 school days.” This means that an IEP must include special education and related services, supplementary aids and services, transition services, and extended school year services in a distance learning context. In other words, how a special education student will receive their services and accommodations during distance learning must be articulated clearly in the IEP.
     
  2. SB 98 also requires that distance learning include daily live interaction with teachers and peers for the purposes of instruction, progress monitoring, and maintaining school connectedness. This interaction may take the form of internet or telephonic communication. SB 98 therefore gives  us hope that distance learning plans for this fall will be more robust and comprehensive than distance learning during spring 2020.
     
  3. An SB 98 addendum should be added at all regularly scheduled IEP meetings (including addendum meetings), even if things are going well. If a parent finds that their child’s IEP is no longer appropriate in the distance learning context, they should not hesitate to call an IEP meeting to address these concerns. SB 98 requires that the school add to the IEP how the child’s services and accommodations will be carried out in the distance learning context. As the school year progresses, distance learning may give rise to new issues that need to be addressed by the IEP. 
     
  4. Parents should make sure the IEP is clear about what services and accommodations are specific to distance learning, and which reflect a permanent change to the IEP. For instance, if a child and teacher plan a weekly video check-in meeting during distance learning, the IEP can state that this will no longer be required when the child returns to in-person school. Similarly, if the IEP is changed to reflect a specific teacher or administrator who is responsible for each of a child’s accommodations, this addition may be permanent, and remain after in-person school resumes. Both situations are okay, but it is imperative that the IEP reflect the intentions of the team.
     
  5. When amending an IEP to accommodate distance learning, many districts will start by removing services and accommodations that are no longer appropriate. For example, a child who received aide services during unstructured social time at school will no longer need this service. However, parents should think about the new challenges that distance learning has created for their child and address those challenges with the team. As with the above example, a child who did not need an aide during structured academic time but needed one during unstructured social time may find that all the time at home during distance learning feels like unstructured time. There is no bell indicating when class begins or lunch ends, no group of children providing cues that it’s time to be quiet and listen, and no teacher in the same room to observe when the child has lost attention.  A child in this situation may need more support to follow a schedule and stay connected to the lessons. The child may benefit by having a private video meeting with their teacher or other support person and developing strategies for adhering to a schedule at home, like mapping out a visual schedule for the week, and setting an alarm on a watch.

 

On the flipside, SB 98 has some parents feeling quite concerned about charter school budgets, which have been slashed because of enrollment caps. Some charter schools have even filed lawsuits against the state. Here’s how the bill effects charter school funding specifically:

  • According to a Medium.com article, families who had recently enrolled their children in California charter schools for their special education distance-learning services are now being told their children cannot attend because of reduced funding related to SB 98. 
     
  • Because several charter schools and agencies now anticipate “extensive costs related to student abandonment,” several of them have asked Congress for liability around failing to provide the free appropriate public education guaranteed by IDEA.
     
  • If a child leaves their public school to enroll in a charter school this fall, SB 98 allows their previous school to keep the state funding they’d received for the student even if they’re no longer enrolled there — meaning that the charter school receives no new funding for new students.
     
  • Legislators in favor of SB 98 claim this ruling will work to redirect money to schools and students hit hardest by COVID-19, but now many charter schools can no longer enroll new students who rely on their unique services.

In sum, while SB 98 makes life much more difficult for those of us who have turned to charter schools, especially for public charter homeschool programs, the new IEP addendum gives parents hope that students will now have access to more robust and comprehensive accommodations during distance learning. Stay tuned for more information on how SB 98 can help our kids get the most out of distance learning this year.

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