There’s no question that our current situation has brought on a slew of terms we are becoming all too familiar with, such as “unprecedented,” “synchronous and asynchronous,” and “Distance Learning Plans” (or DLPs). With all of this new terminology floating around, not to mention the virtual platforms our children are currently mandated to use, there are a lot of unknowns and even more questions.

Dr. Sarah Pelangka, a special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs, has identified eight of the most-asked questions about IEPs during distance learning and answers them for us here. 

 

Rearview image of a young boy with brown hair sitting at a desk and working on his laptop.
Rearview image of a young boy with brown hair sitting at a desk and working on his laptop.

1. What is a Distance Learning Plan and what should I be looking for or seeking?

A Distance Learning Plan (DLP) is a document that describes 1.) how the district proposes to meet your child’s IEP minutes and 2.) how the district proposes your child will access their IEP. It does not replace the IEP; it is attached to the IEP and documents what the district will be responsible for during distance learning. Every district I’ve seen to date has mailed these plans to families without considering their input. For that reason, I encourage families to call an amendment IEP meeting to collaboratively build the DLP. 

What to look for in your child’s DLP:  

— Number of service minutes being recommended: 

  • If the district has cut the IEP minutes, they need to document their reasoning, and it cannot be due to lack of resources (for example, they can’t say they don’t have enough people/time). 
     
  • If you feel the minutes are too much, you have a right to cut them. This will not replace the IEP; the original offer of FAPE will go back into effect as soon as your child resumes on-campus instruction. 
     
  • If you feel your child needs additional consult minutes with you, this can be added. After all, you are the direct service provider right now! Every district I have requested this from has granted and added “Consult with Parent” to the DLP for every service provider. 

— How the minutes will be provided:

  • Live virtual instruction
     
  • Videos
     
  • Emails
     
  • Consultations
     
  • Asynchronous work
     

— Additional accommodations needed in the home setting:

  • This can include anything you and the IEP team feel your child needs to be successful in this new environment. For example, if your child doesn’t currently have an accommodation in their IEP for an adaptive seat but needs one now, that can be added and provided to you. 
     

2. How is my child’s attendance being tracked? If my daughter misses a Zoom class but turns in the day’s work, will she be marked absent?

Senate Bill 98 (SB98) has specified the number of hours per day that students need to attend school during distance learning, whether it’s live instruction (synchronous) or independent work (asynchronous). That being said, if your child cannot pay attention to the Zoom class for the expected timeframe, fewer specialized academic instruction (SAI) minutes can be written into the DLP. Your child’s attendance is based on their DLP and whether or not they show up for the day, based on how that is reflected in the DLP. 

REMEMBER: The DLP does NOT replace the IEP! It is a temporary plan to document how the student is going to access their IEP while in the current emergency situation. Once the student returns to campus, the IEP goes back into effect.

3. My son cannot focus on the computer. He’s having behaviors, continuously elopes, and just cannot focus. How can I get a 1:1 aide into my home to help?

This is the golden question right now! On August 24, 2020, in Parent on Behalf of Student v. Pleasanton Unified School District and Contra Costa County Office of Education, a judge ruled in favor of the student and granted in-home 1:1 support. In April 2020, the California Department of Education (CDE) deemed service providers to be “essential workers.” In certain circumstances in which a student cannot access FAPE without in-person support, that support can be granted. If the district refuses to provide a district-level aide due to liability issues, the district should contract out with a non-public agency (NPA). If the district refuses to contract out and continues to deny the service and your child continues to struggle without in-person 1:1 support, document your child’s progress (or lack thereof) and you can potentially be owed compensatory services once school resumes (or you can file for due process now).

4. My child does not currently receive mental health services as an IEP service; however, the pandemic and distance learning has resulted in increased depression and anxiety in my child. How do I access help?

Every district should have a mental health outreach program in place for all students and parents. Ask your school principal for access to this program if you don’t have it already. If your child has an IEP and you feel they need more than a standard school counselor, you can certainly request that services with a licensed therapist be added to the child’s DLP; however, your child will need to complete an initial intake first, as that is required to provide services. There should be a Tier 1 counseling option that your child can access in the meantime, so they don’t have to wait until the assessment process is completed. 

5. My child’s triennial assessment is due; what can I expect?

Now that L.A. County has authorized in-person assessments, most districts are already offering them or are in the process of completing the plan to be able to offer in-person assessments. Obviously, the assessment will not look as it would under “normal” circumstances, as the student is not in class or on campus with all of their peers. That being said, many portions of the assessment can still take place and be valid. The assessments that will need to be redone once in-person school resumes include Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and 1:1 aide assessments, and any portions of assessments requiring direct observation, as the current environment will not reflect the actual school day. However, triennials can still be done and additional assessments can be completed once in-person instruction resumes. FBAs can be done virtually but will need to be redone when campuses open, as the intent of an FBA is to develop a plan based on the student’s immediate environment. If you are not comfortable with your child being assessed in person, you have the right to wait until you do feel comfortable and/or complete the portions that can be done virtually. You can also opt for a records review until it is safe for your child to resume in-person contact. 

6. How will the district track data on my child’s IEP goals?

Most data on IEP goals can be tracked via the virtual classroom, as the teacher can still see and observe the student. Some goals may not work in a virtual model, though, such as peer interaction goals and center rotation goals. Make sure you document which goals are not being addressed during distance learning, as the district will need to devise a plan to make up for that lost time. For example, if your child has a peer interaction goal that cannot be met because of distance learning, the district can fund an after-school recreational activity once in-person school resumes to allow for additional time to target that goal. Something that looks different as a result of distance learning is that the district is accepting and taking into consideration parent’s data about their children’s progress when writing IEPs. This means that you as the parent can track data on your child’s performance and have it reflected in the present levels and baselines throughout the IEP. (Check out Sarah’s tips on collecting data in this short video, as well as this awesome goal tracker template!)

7. My child has a significant vision impairment; how can the school expect him to learn via online instruction if he can’t see the screen?

Your district’s vision specialist should be a support provider. Make sure any and all equipment your child needs to access the screen is in your home. Whatever your child needs to see or access the curriculum should be at his disposal. If he would do better with an iPad than a Chromebook, the district should provide an iPad. If he needs a magnifier in the home setting, he should get a magnifier. You should also request an updated Assistive Technology and Vision Assessment to see if there are any new supports he can benefit from. If he does better with contrasting surfaces, staff should be creating those; if he needs paper-based materials instead of online materials, those should be provided. If he benefits from manipulatives accompanying the instruction, those should also be provided. 

8. My daughter communicates via an AAC device; how can she participate in online instruction?

Consult with your district’s AAC specialist and ask what can be added to allow her to  actively participate in online instruction. Is there a way to connect her AAC device to the Zoom class so that when she types it goes directly into the live chat? Ask for all of the options that can be made available, even if you have to get creative. If the team cannot offer any solutions, consult with a private specialist (at the district’s expense) so you can obtain the proper supports. There is no reason your child’s needs cannot be met.

 

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