Results-Driven Pittsburgh Attorney

COVID-19 and Special Education

School is closed, but my child receives special education and related services. What happens now?

Q. Schools are closed, but what about the 180-day school day requirement?

A. The PA Dept. of Education has waived the 180-day school day requirement if schools do not meet this requirement as a result of responding to COVID-19.

Q. Does this mean my child's last day of school will remain the same?

A. Not necessarily. The school does not have to keep children in school for the purpose of meeting the 180-day requirement, but it doesn't mean a school would not extend the school year past the originally-expected last day of school to have some make up days. That decision rests with the school.

Q. Does the school district have to provide special education services to my child while school is closed?

A. It depends; the PA Dept. of Education is following the guidelines from the U.S. Dept. of Education. Both agencies are advising that school districts are not responsible for providing special education and related services, during a school's response to COVID-19, as long as the school district is also not providing education to general education students.

Q. I heard my school district is giving educational materials and resource to general education students, to keep them from falling behind, but I haven't received anything to assist my child who has a disability. What can I do?

A. Contact the school and remind them of how your child's IEP reads, as well as the school's continued obligation to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), if the school is going to continue to provide educational materials to general education students. Again, this has been outlined by the PA Dept. of Education. Also, check to determine whether the materials being sent home to general education students are being graded.

Q. What if my child doesn't receive special education services or the services are insufficient? Can I send him to private school and seek reimbursement?

A. I would, first, check to determine the private school is open. Depending on the county, in which you live, all schools, even private and parochial schools, are required to close until March 27, 2020. If the private school is located in an area not subject to mandatory quarantine, you should send the school district a 10-day letter informing them of your decision to send your child to a private school since the services from the public school are insufficient. This will at least protect your rights to seek reimbursement later. Part of the purpose of a 10-day letter is to provide the district with 10 days' notice of your decision to pursue private schooling. Considering the circumstances, it's possible a hearing officer could waive the fact that it's not being sent 10 days before enrollment. At a minimum, it will allow you to at least say you gave them notice of the decision. Remember, school closures are for social distancing NOT to prevent schools from providing services in a small setting with a few students.

Q. What about IEP and/or 504 meetings that were supposed to take place during the two-week timeframe school is closed?

A. Most districts will request a postponement of that meeting. Parents should consider asking the district to still conduct the meeting via tele- or videoconference. That may reduce the number of people within the meeting, but it doesn't hurt to ask. The problem with everything being rescheduled is that everything will get rescheduled. Realistically, it will be much harder to try to get 20 or 30 meetings to fit within the short window of school days left, considering there may likely already be other IEP or 504 meetings on their calendars.

Q. My child attends a private placement, but my district is closed. Can my child still go to school?

A. Your child can still attend, but the district may not be legally responsible for the transportation.

These are uncharted waters and everyone is still trying to figure things out, but we will get through this. To help guide your days with some level of stability and structure, I am providing a PDF of a daily schedule. Use or change as appropriate to fit your schedule.

To Your Child's Success,

Jennifer O. Price, Esquire