Distance Learning and FAPE Wrap-up, Part 2
Here, we continue our breakdown of the galvanizing conversation we had on September 3rd with special education attorney Grace Clark, special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka, and CCUSD’s director of special education, Dr. Diana Fannon. (If you missed it, you can watch the video here!) Be sure to read part 1 of the wrap-up, which tackles the new requirements for distance learning plans, the value of strong goals and data tracking, and how to get the 1:1 support our kids need. (Pssst: Did you know we have a Facebook page now? We’ll be posting this wrap-up — and so much more! — there, so please feel free to share!)
Before we dive into the highlights by subject, here are 5 things you can do right now:
- If you’re planning to ask for compensatory ed, set up an IEP meeting to talk about ways to improve your child’s distance learning plan first — it’s always best to try to work it out with the district when you can.
- Collect data! (It's not as scary as it sounds; check out Dr. Sarah Pelangka’s tips here, and this handy goal tracker template here!)
- Request accommodations for your home environment; the district is required to provide whatever your child needs to access their education. Check out this list of virtual accommodations to start!
- Communicate with your school and district about your child’s challenges with distance learning, and know that you don’t need to have all the answers. It’s the IEP team’s job to help you come up with solutions.
- If your child is in gen ed classes but would benefit from switching to a special education class during distance learning, just ask — they can revert back once in-person school resumes.
- Students are entitled to compensatory education when they are deprived of FAPE. Special education attorney Grace Clark explains that compensatory education is awarded to get kids to the place they would have been if there wasn’t a deprivation of FAPE. “Kids who experienced regressions or aren’t progressing potentially have a claim for compensatory education, but it depends on the individual. The question isn’t really about how many services they were getting; it’s about where they are compared to where they should be. Did your child get to where they should be? If not, is it because they weren’t being provided with FAPE? That’s when parents can request compensatory education.”
- It’s too early to know what compensatory education will look like. “Before we can understand how to compensate for something that didn’t happen the way it was supposed to, we should get further into it and then we can see the big picture and what we can do about it,” Grace says. Special education advocate and owner of KnowIEPs Dr. Sarah Pelangka agrees: “We need to see how things play out. I’m more hopeful now that some students are allowed to be on campus.”
- Try to resolve things with the district first; compensatory education should be a last resort. Dr. Diana Fannon, director of special education at Culver City Unified School District, says that districts usually want to work with you. “If parents are paying for services themselves or if there’s a conflict they want to work on, most districts will work with you to resolve that. Districts will try to resolve disagreements before they become bigger or parents have to file for due process.” An example is that a district might agree to additional sessions, and these would be written into the IEP. Grace adds that compensatory education is a legal term. “If someone has been deprived of FAPE, a court can award it as a remedy. If we’re making up service time, that seems like something that can be worked out in an IEP meeting.”
- If your child needs supplemental services like educational therapy or tutoring, call an IEP meeting first — and come prepared with data. Grace tells us that any student who is struggling with what they’ve been provided needs an IEP meeting first. “That’s where the data you’re collecting can come in,” she says: “‘Here’s my data, here’s my situation.’ Find out what kinds of supports are available through the school. That’s the very first thing to do before considering private services or compensatory education.” Grace also adds that you don’t have to walk into the IEP meeting with an answer in mind. “You can just walk in with problems. It’s the IEP team’s job to come up with solutions, and they’ve probably come across it before. That’s the easiest, fastest, least expensive way to solve the problem.”
- Kids who have significant language or communication impairments are the most challenged when trying to communicate through a screen. Grace says that she hopes these kids can be among the first to go back to campus in small groups, if they’re able. “The distance-learning suggestions I’ve seen for AAC devices are not intuitive,” she says. Grace adds that for kids who are nonverbal but can read, closed captions (see this article on using captions on Chromebooks) can be really helpful. Dr. Pelangka adds that teachers can hold up visual cues on the screen: “The parent and teacher could agree beforehand that a yellow card means this and a red card means this, and the child knows that whenever they see that card, they have to do X, Y, or Z.”
- Accommodations should be updated to whatever extent they need to be for the child to be able to access their IEP. “The biggest population I’ve seen struggle with this is kids with vision impairment,” Dr. Pelangka says. “If they need a magnifier or an iPad instead of Chromebook, the district needs to provide whatever the child needs to be able to access their education. It might look different in this setting, so that’s why those accommodations can change.” Check out our great list of virtual accommodations here!
- If a child is usually in general education classes but needs special education classes for distance learning (or in-person cohorts), parents can request a temporary switch. Grace explains that if general education classes are not enough to support the child during distance learning, an individualized classroom might be the next step. “Our kids have the right to be taught in the least-restrictive environment, and that might change to a different level of classroom during distance learning. When we go back to school, their classroom situation will revert to what it was.” Dr. Fannon adds that depending on the services and providers, the student could potentially come to campus for additional services: “If the teacher has a small enough caseload, the entire group could come back to school for two to three days a week; they can still be included and receive services in a small group.” She notes that Culver City Unified hasn’t finalized their plans yet, but this is something they’re looking into.
- Parents have the power: learn as much as you can, pay attention to what’s happening, and communicate with your school. There is a fear that regressions resulting from distance learning will lead to more segregated environments a few years down the road. But Dr. Fannon reminds us that parents always have the power. “As parents, it’s important to learn as much as you can to make sure that districts don’t push for something like that. We should see all schools making an effort to bring small groups back to start remedying any regressions. By the end of this year, we should see at the very least some stabilization.” She added that for now, “pay attention to the IEP, make sure that data is being gathered and you are monitoring progress, and make sure all the supports and services that are in the IEP are in place. Pay attention to what's happening and go in with a plan. If you have an idea, that’s great; if you don’t, ask for help. Communicate with your school.”
- Data, data, data! Dr. Pelangka adds, “I can’t stress enough and I know it's a scary word, but data, data, data! That's going to be your evidence and it can be your saving grace.”
Parting Words of Advice
- We’re learning along with our kids. Grace notes that we’re learning about and alongside our kids: “I hope that we learn things about our kids from working closely with them, seeing them in different environments, and having to use platforms we wouldn’t naturally come across, and that this will improve their education when we go back to school.”
- Be patient and collect that data! “This is new for both sides, so I encourage parents to give grace to the schools and districts and vice versa, and to continue to work collaboratively,” Dr. Pelangka says. “One of the most positive aspects of distance learning is that districts are being more inclusive of parents and their feedback, so continue to build on that and work on those relationships. Be patient and continue to document.”
- Talk to your district. “We love to hear from parents,” Dr. Fannon says. “It helps to make us better. Someone in my position doesn’t always know what’s going on, so I like to hear from parents. We won’t be here forever but I think we will come out of it better educators.”
If you've reached out to your school to request an IEP meeting or discuss accommodations or compensatory ed, how did it go? We'd love to know!