Distance learning has completely altered what school is like for our kids, from how they access their curriculum to whether they’re able to participate meaningfully in therapies. For students who benefitted from 1:1 aides on campus or had 1:1 instruction written into their IEP, continuing these services has been complicated due to safety concerns and guidelines regarding COVID-19. Some districts provide virtual 1:1 aides through breakout sessions in the learning platform, some are sending employees to homes, and other districts may hire non-district staff through a non-public agency (NPA). Some parents may also hire a 1:1 aide on their own with a plan to seek district reimbursement later. While it can be a complicated process and some questions remain unanswered, it is possible for your child to receive 1:1 support at home for distance learning. 

Here, special education attorney Grace Clark and special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka explain the options and obstacles for parents seeking in-home aides for their children.

A young female student with her hair pulled back at home reading a book.
A young female student with her hair pulled back reading a book at home.

1:1 aides and FAPE

Grace tells us that if your child requires a 1:1 aide in order to access a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), the district is required to figure out how to provide that service.

  • Note that previously having a 1:1 aide at school does not automatically guarantee a student’s right to an aide at home unless FAPE is not provided without one.
  • If your child didn’t need an aide at school, that doesn’t preclude them from accessing a 1:1 aide during distance learning, as their accommodations and modifications may be different in this new learning environment.
  • If your child did not have a 1:1 aide at school but benefitted from classroom aides, you can ask the teacher to provide 1:1 support virtually. 
    • Teachers are supposed to provide office hours so that students can virtually connect with them for 1:1 homework help.
    • If these office hours are not providing enough support for your child during distance learning, discuss this with your IEP team.

1:1 aides as essential workers

In a webinar, attorney Mark Woodsmall explains that a recent California Department of Education guidance classifies providers of in-person special education services as essential workers. If remote options are not efficient or practical for your child, the local education agency (LEA) can provide in-home supports, overriding mandatory shutdown orders.

  • In an August 2020 lawsuit, a federal judge sided with a parent and her child by ordering the district to provide the at-home 1:1 services listed in the student’s IEP prior to the pandemic. 

Non-public agencies 

Culver City Unified School District’s Director of Special Education Dr. Diana Fannon tells us that some districts have contracted with non-public agencies (NPAs) to provide at-home 1:1 services when they feel they cannot safely send district employees to students’ homes. 

  • If your child’s district will not contract with a non-public agency or provide a 1:1 aide themselves, Dr. Pelangka says the next step is to document how your child does or does not progress without this support. We’ve created an IEP Goal Tracker and an IEP Service Delivery Log to make this as painless as possible.
  • Based on the data you collect, you may be owed compensatory education or be advised to file for due process.

Private services

Dr. Pelangka tells us that parents may also be able to privately hire a 1:1 aide through an ABA agency. Getting that service reimbursed by your school district may be difficult (but not necessarily impossible). Her advice:

  • Save all of your receipts so that you can try to get reimbursed by the district.
  • Note that many ABA agencies are limiting the number of therapists they’re allowing into homes due to safety concerns, so it may be more difficult to find an available therapist.

Four steps you can take to request an at-home 1:1 aide

Mark Woodsmall suggests following these steps to request an at-home 1:1 aide through your child’s IEP:

  1. Review the IEP, paying special attention to goals and challenges.
  2. Gather any data you’ve collected from monitoring your child’s progress toward their IEP goals (number of prompts, any difficulties, minutes of attendance, etc.).
  3. Prepare a list of the private therapists you believe could help your child with 1:1 services (while complying with federal and state health and safety guidelines).
  4. Request an IEP meeting to discuss your child’s progress (or lack thereof), and share the data you’ve collected about your child’s performance as well as the list of possible providers you’ve assembled. Ask for permission to record the meeting for your records. (Be sure to make this request in writing at least 24 hours before the meeting.)
    • Ask the district to provide an Assistive Technology (AT) assessment for your child so that you can review alternative services and devices that may help your child access their curriculum.
    • Discuss non-public agencies with the IEP team, and have a collaborative mindset that’s focused on increasing your child’s access to education.

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