Last week, we had an incredibly informative conversation with special education attorney Grace Clark, special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka, and CCUSD’s Director of Special Education Dr. Diana Fannon that made us feel more confident about distance learning and our kids’ IEPs. (If you missed it, you can watch the video here!)

So let’s get to work making this school year as meaningful as possible! Before we dive into the highlights by subject — and there will be more to come next week! — here are the top 5 things you need to know:

  1. The new Senate Bill 98 requires that all IEPs include a specific plan for delivery of services during distance learning. FAPE is still the law of the land, but it may need to look a little different for our kids right now. Call an IEP meeting today to make sure your voice is heard. 
     
  2. L.A. County is now allowing on-campus instruction for small groups of students for certain purposes (including assessments, special day classes of 12 or fewer kids, and English language learners). Here’s the latest on assessments during the pandemic. 
     
  3. It's more important than ever that we document and monitor our kids' progress. Districts are relying on parent data to determine how our kids are doing, and they want to hear from you. Check out this short video with tips on data collection, and check out this awesome goal tracker template here! 
     
  4. Children who rely on behavioral or instructional aides at school should be able to ask for that at home, but it’s easier said than done. 
     
  5. If your kid needs a breakout room or 1:1 virtual instruction, write it into the distance learning plan. If your child truly cannot benefit from distance learning, ask your district about non-Zoom options.

 

SB98 and Distance Learning Plans

  • New legislation encourages schools to work with parents and come up with a plan so that kids can walk away from this year with the same knowledge, even if it's not administered in the same way. Special education attorney Grace Clark explains that legislation in California was passed over the summer (Senate Bill 98) that outlines minimum guidelines for what schools have to provide during distance learning, also called a Distance Learning Plan (DLP). This includes daily live instruction, a device for kids to access their lessons, and connectivity if students don’t have internet access. Schools are also supposed to teach grade-level content and standards, and kids with an IEP should be working on their IEP goals.
     
  • A Distance Learning Plan (DLP) is not part of nor does it replace the IEP; it doesn’t change the offer of FAPE. Dr. Sarah Pelangka, special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs, tells us she is encouraging families to call an IEP meeting to discuss the DLP promised by the new legislation. “SB98 should be added to all IEPs post July 29, but most families don’t know about it. The purpose of the DLP is to describe how the student is going to access everything in their IEP.” She notes that the DLP might change what services and accommodations look like in terms of how the student will access the goals within their IEP. For example, a child might need different accommodations because they’re at home and not at school, or parents might need to request changes in service minutes. 


Assessments

  • Now that kids can be brought on campus for assessments, at least in L.A. County, districts will have to start doing them. L.A. County recently gave districts permission to allow small groups of students to return to campus for specific reasons (such as assessments) as soon as September 14th. Grace Clark tells us that special day classes of 12 or fewer kids and English language learners can come back to school, and kids in need of assessments can come in for those as well. “It doesn’t mean schools have to do them in person, but it gives them the green light.” She reminds us that the suspension of assessments due to the stay-at-home orders shouldn’t apply anymore. 
     
  • The district will never force someone to come to in-person assessments if they’re uncomfortable or if there’s a health condition where they’re compromised. Click here for a more in-depth look at assessments, both in-person and virtual.


Setting Goals and Collecting Data

  • As opposed to the spring, districts are now relying on parent data — they’re asking parents what they’ve seen and how their child is doing. Dr. Pelangka says that districts are taking whatever data parents have and using that to establish present levels and baselines that will help inform goals. “Now that all these mandates are in place and schools have guidelines to see their students live every day, they’re able to track baselines, albeit virtually.” She notes that she wouldn’t necessarily want to keep the goals completely identical: “It would be a case-by-case basis, but I would assume that certain things have changed between then and now. It's important to have those discussions rather than just rolling the goals over.” 
     
  • It’s important to record as much as possible how your kids are or aren’t progressing, but know that you can just record the lack of progress. “If the student can’t interact with the lesson, record that they’re not interacting.” Grace Clark says that it’s important for parents to contribute to the conversation, especially since they have so much more information than the schools do. “Parents know where their child is, how fast they're getting through a reading passage, or they know they’re not getting anything out of their speech lessons. It’s important to bring all of that up in your IEP when talking about future goals; if there’s a conversation at some point about compensatory education, figure out if FAPE was offered and if the child was able to make progress toward their goals during distance learning.” For more info from Grace about the best ways to record your child's progress, click here.
     
  • Use a goal tracker for monitoring progress and behaviors, and record video! Dr. Pelangka developed a goal tracker (check it out here!) and encourages parents to use it to monitor progress (or lack thereof) on their child’s IEP goals to the best of their ability as well as behaviors. “Write down what they look like, the frequency, and how they’ve changed. Track overall social-emotional well-being; have you seen changes or regression in their interactions? Have they lost social skills or have they gained any? Data can be intimidating and scary, so if you can’t jot it down or take a tally, record a video; nothing is more clear or transparent than video.” She also recommends noting additional changes, modifications, and accommodations that parents or caregivers come up with. See more of Dr. Pelangka’s data-collection tips here
     
  • Data should be gathered from multiple sources, including parents. Dr. Fannon assures us that districts are gathering data from Zoom, apps, and parent data. “We’re working with parents; it might not be exactly what kids do in school, but you can find out how they’re doing in the home setting. If there’s a social interaction goal, we can find out if they’re initiating social interactions at home. It doesn't have to be exactly what’s written in the IEP right now; we’re finding that there are other ways to see if they’re making progress or regressing. Parents should always be part of the process — if we can help to include them more, the student will ultimately benefit.”


1:1 Aides in the Home

  • If a behavioral or instructional aide is necessary for your child to access FAPE, then someone needs to be in the home. Grace Clark reminds us that just because your child has a 1:1 aide at school, it doesn’t mean they should automatically have one at home, but those needs can change in a distance learning environment. She recognizes, though, that getting an in-person aide is easier said than done. “Schools often don’t feel that they employ people who are qualified or able to go into people’s homes, but my response is that districts can contract with non-public agencies to find someone who can go into the home. If the child requires it for FAPE, the district needs to figure out how to provide it to the child. The California Department of Education had said in April that people who need to come into the home to assist children with therapies or to access their curriculum means they’re essential workers and aren’t bound by the stay-at-home order, so I don’t see how this is any different. But it can’t be done without a huge fight right now.”
     
  • Keep your receipts because you can potentially go back and get reimbursed if you are paying privately. Dr. Pelangka adds that she recently heard about an insurance provider allowing an ABA agency to come into the home during instructional time, but that every other time, insurance has denied it. She also points out that most ABA agencies have limited their therapists to only going in and out of one home to keep them safer. “On the flip side, we have kids who are having severe regressions and behavioral issues in the home and aren’t able to access the content without that support.” (We’ll have more information about this topic soon.)
     
  • Many districts contract with non-public agencies, but there are a number of safety and liability concerns. Dr. Fannon acknowledges the need for in-person support, but reminds us that there are a number of safety and liability issues that are prohibiting aides from going into the home. “There are so many things that happened after the April guidance that led to concerns about COVID being transmitted between families and health care workers. It’s a massive concern.”


Alternative Options

  • If smaller groups or breakout rooms work best for your child, get it written into the distance learning plan. Dr. Pelangka tells us that she’s had a few families whose kids can’t tolerate Zoom and either need a breakout room or 1:1 instruction with the teacher, and that teachers are being very accommodating. 
     
  • If your child is truly not benefitting from DL, most districts are offering another option. Dr. Fannon tells us that most districts are offering some sort of non-Zoom option if distance learning isn’t working. “Ultimately we want to make sure that our students are making progress and at the very minimum aren’t regressing. The first step is to reach out to your case manager or your school, and we'll figure out what we can do to make it better. If you don’t get a response from your school, call your director. We’re here to help.”


Now check out part 2, which covers compensatory education and additional services, accessibility and accommodations, inclusion, and more! 

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