Note: This article was originally published on SpecialEdConnection.com and was reprinted with the permission of LRP Publications.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were able to move students with disabilities into virtual settings without holding an individualized education program meeting to change their educational placement.
According to the U.S. Education Department’s Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak, 76 IDELR 77 (EDU 2020), the provision of available services, such as virtual instruction, is not considered a change in placement when exclusion from in-person instruction is a temporary measure — generally 10 consecutive days or less. Still, under the IDEA, substantive changes in placement should be accompanied by an IEP meeting prior to the implementation of those changes, even when an IEP meeting is not necessary for mere location changes.
Given that most districts have resumed in-person learning, now is the time to take a closer look at a student’s placement.
“Placement should be in the IEP and should reflect the student’s actual placement,” said Wendy Tucker, senior director of policy at the Center for Learner Equity, which offers considerations for IEP team and placements meetings
“For periods where students might need to be out of the building due to exposure, illness, etc., schools have been encouraged (but not required) to develop contingency plans to attach to IEPs that specify how FAPE will be provided in the event of building closures,” said Tucker. “Absent that, any placement change that is more than just a temporary thing driven by temporary COVID issues would require an IEP team meeting and a change in placement by the team.”
Following are three placement considerations for districts based on points made by the Center for Learner Equity:
- Work collaboratively with families and engage the IEP team when considering adjustments to the way a student with disabilities participates in virtual or in-person instructional options. 20 USC 1415 (b)(1). A bad way to handle adjustments would be to generalize and make decisions about the needs of and options for students with disabilities as a category, according to the center.
- Proceed with an assumption that the appropriate placement is in the general education setting with nondisabled peers, a key component to making the appropriate decisions that accord with the IDEA’s least restrictive environment requirement. 20 USC 1412 (a)(5)(A); 34 CFR 300.114.
A change in physical location may give rise to a change in placement where LRE is at issue. If the relocation of a student results in a substantial change in the IEP or violates LRE requirements, the change could be considered a change in placement. Letter to Earnest, 211 IDELR 417 (OSERS 1986); and H.D. v. Central Bucks Sch. Dist., 59 IDELR 275 (E.D. Pa. 2012).
- Respond equitably to pandemic challenges. ED guidance specifically talks about continued virtual learning for students with disabilities and notes that it was considered one of the most restrictive settings pre-pandemic. Recent non-regulatory guidance states that “virtual learning provided during the pandemic may be deemed less restrictive if it is available to all children and provides the child with a disability meaningful opportunities to be educated and interact with nondisabled peers in the regular education environment.” Return to School Roadmap: Development and Implementation of Individualized Education Programs in the Least Restrictive Environment under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 121 LRP 33345 (OSEP 09/30/21), G-3.
Published. October 19, 2021
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