This article was written by Franczek P.C. of Education Week on November 8, 2021.
In this second blog post in our series on the OSERS Question and Answerdocument on IDEA requirements related to returning to in-person instruction, we are focusing on two questions relevant to this time of transition and uncertainty. (Our first post highlighted the guidance related to compensatory services; you can read that here.) Schools are open in person, but quarantines, adaptive pauses, and mitigation measures continue. And while expanded access to vaccinations will hopefully keep more students in school in person, the possibility of a future return to remote or hybrid instruction is not negligible. Below we explain the OSERS guidance related to contingency plans and remote meetings.
IEP Teams should consider developing contingency plans to meet students’ needs in the event of future remote instruction. When we first transitioned to remote learning, educators scrambled to figure out how to implement IEPs using new delivery models and how to document the changes. Many districts created remote learning plans that set out how a student’s goals, accommodations, and services would be delivered. While most students are learning in-person now, we have learned over the last year and a half that the COVID-19 pandemic is unpredictable, and OSERS advises that schools should be prepared for future changes. To do so, OSERS recommends that IEP teams proactively develop a contingency plan addressing the provision of special education and related services should remote or hybrid learning become necessary again.
This guidance is not new – the Department made the same recommendation in March 2020 (when it was unfortunately too late for proactive planning) and again in September 2020. At the same time, contingency or remote learning plans are not required. OSERS suggests that teams reach an agreement now about how services will be provided in the event of future disruptions, but the guidance does not create new legal obligations and the IDEA itself is silent on the issue. Districts should consider if and when such plans may be useful.
Virtual IEP meetings may be here to stay. IEP meetings may be convened virtually if the parent agrees to the format or if COVID-19 restrictions necessitate it. OSEP stresses the importance of parent attendance and participation at IEP meetings and encourages collaboration between parents and schools to convene the meeting at a mutually agreeable time and place. Many teams have seen benefits to meeting virtually, including reduced travel time, easy screen sharing, and an increased feeling of parity. And virtual meetings mean that participants can remove their masks, which can make communication more effective. While in-person meetings have their own benefits, we anticipate that at least some meetings will continue to be virtual or hybrid.
Please stay tuned for additional updates related to the OSERS Q&A on School Reopening and the IDEA and how this guidance may apply to your district.