What to Expect and Ask for During a Distance Learning IEP Meeting

Distance Learning Plan meetings are IEP amendment meetings that address your child’s needs during distance learning. We asked special education attorney Grace Clark to give us the lowdown on what to expect, and we asked special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka about the types of things we can ask for in these meetings, especially when it comes to creating or modifying our kids’ Distance Learning Plans. 

A notebook with white lined pages is open on a wooden desk with a calligraphy pen on top; the word Notes is written on the page and underlined. A pair of black-rimmed glasses sits above the notebook.

What to expect

  • SB 98, the education bill that was signed into law by Governor Newsom in June 2020, has specified certain required additions to an IEP to make it appropriate for distance learning (also called a Distance Learning Plan, or DLP). While discussing a DLP with the IEP team will resemble typical IEP meetings in some ways, a meeting to develop or fine-tune a DLP should include a discussion about how a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) can be provided to your child in the distance-learning context. 
  • As a parent, you know best what aspects of distance learning are most challenging for your child. Maybe your second grader needs a movement break every two minutes during an online class, or maybe you thought your middle schooler was managing okay, only to find out they are failing their math tests and forgetting to log on to their speech therapy sessions. The primary focus of an IEP meeting needs to be what different or additional services and accommodations are required to provide FAPE to your child in the distance-learning context.
  • Be creative with ideas about what services and accommodations will help your child maximize their ability to learn the material being presented by their teachers and therapists, as well as protect them from being penalized for behavior they cannot control. Some children need more frequent breaks while attending online classes. Others need to meet with a teacher or aide in a breakout room to have questions answered and information broken down into itemized steps. Still others benefit from a visual timer on the screen. Some kids need assignments and directions provided ahead of time, and a copy of the notes from the class afterwards.  
  • If changes are necessary for the school to provide FAPE to your child during distance learning, they should be part of a Distance Learning Plan (DLP), which acts as an amendment to the IEP. The DLP should include the services the student will receive during this period of school closure, and any supplementary aids and services required to facilitate their access to FAPE. The DLP will go into effect any time the school closes for 10 or more days due to a natural disaster (which includes the current pandemic). When full-time in-person school resumes, your child’s IEP will take precedence.

What you can ask for

Aside from the accommodations and modifications (and potential additional services) mentioned above, here are a few of the things you can ask for in an IEP meeting: 

  • 1:1 aide
    Check out more in-depth information about requesting a 1:1 aide here. Ensure that the proper accommodations, goals, and supports are in place before making this request; once those have been implemented and fail, you’ll have more basis for your request.
  • Accommodations and modifications
    If your child has not received the accommodations (including equipment) that are required by their IEP, ask your district to provide them for use at home. Of course, distance learning also presents new challenges, and your child may now require additional accommodations and modifications to access their education. For more, check out this list of virtual accommodations.
  • Behavioral support
    If your child requires behavioral support within the educational setting, these should be properly supported by the IEP. Find out what level of support the school is currently offering, and ensure that the IEP team is prepared to convene to determine whether the current level is working. If it’s not working, request a functional behavioral assessment (FBA). This assessment determines when and where the behaviors occur, how they manifest, and how often they occur. Your child has the right to receive intensive behavioral intervention services if needed. 
  • Additional related service minutes
    Services such as speech and occupational therapy are based on needs, which are based on present levels. It is critical that your child’s present levels are clear, detailed, and an accurate reflection of what they can and cannot do. Spend some time reading the present levels of performance (PLOP) page in your child’s IEP. Based on the goals written into the IEP, service providers will make a determination as to how often and how long they need to meet with your child to meet these goals. There is no magic formula to determine how many minutes your child needs; it is a team decision, but know that you have a right to take part in that discussion. If you don’t agree with the recommendation, voice that. 
  • Compensatory education
    As a parent, you have the right to request compensatory education; however, it is important to understand what this means, and when it is a worthy request. Compensatory education is essentially owed when a school or district fails to offer FAPE. There are various ways in which FAPE can be denied, including but not limited to: 
    • Service providers are failing to complete all of their service minutes.
    • Goals are not being targeted, or areas of need are not being represented within the IEP.
    • No data is available to reflect and support goals or service implementation.
    • The current FAPE offer on the IEP is not what the student needs, or FAPE is not proving to be of benefit to the student, so the student is not making significant progress.

If any of the above is occurring, you may be entitled to compensatory education. It’s important to note that if you feel your child isn’t making significant progress, the first step is to track their present levels so you have data to back this up. For a more detailed look at what compensatory ed means and when it’s appropriate to ask for it, go here

What if I don’t agree with the entire IEP/DLP?

California is a consent state, meaning that no portion of the IEP can be implemented without your consent. You have the right to disagree with portions or all of the IEP. The same rights extend to the Distance Learning Plan that supports your child’s IEP. There is a section on the signature page where you can note that you agree “with exceptions.” Here, you would initial and note what you do not agree with. Make sure you clearly note which portions you accept and which you do not. 

Whichever portions you do not consent to cannot be implemented — however, what will be implemented in that area is whatever was agreed upon at the last signed IEP. Let’s say you disagree with all of the goals but you agree with a change in placement; you can do so, but keep in mind that the team will have no current goals to work from, and the last agreed-upon goals (which are likely outdated) will be implemented until an agreement can be reached. 

When there is disagreement, attempt to work it out with the team by reconvening again. If you are still unable to reach an agreement, contact the special education department within the district. If that doesn’t work, you can file for mediation and/or due process.

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