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IEPs in The Time of Covid-19

Law Office of Stuart M. Nachbar, P.C. April 8, 2021

In March 2020, COVID-19 forced States to close K-12 schools. These schools are unlikely to re-open for several months, leading to many questions about how to proceed. School administrators considered how to deal with timelines for IEP meetings. The idea of postponing IEP meetings until schools re-opened was floated.

Should schools postpone IEP meetings until after schools re-open? How would postponing IEP meetings actually work? Who will benefit from a decision to postpone IEP meetings? Who will be harmed?

When children with disabilities don’t receive the special education and related services they need, they regress. Some suffer a profound loss of skills. 

Assume a child’s IEP team meets after a months-long school closure. The child’s team had little or no contact with this child since March 2020. The team doesn’t have information about the child’s regression or the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. Before the IEP team can make decisions about compensatory education or develop an appropriate IEP that meets this child’s needs, the team will need accurate, current information about the child. What needs to happen next? 

The school may need to reevaluate this child to determine regression and present levels in academic and functional skills. School evaluators will be swamped with requests to complete evaluations they were working on when their school closed suddenly – along with reevaluations and new requests for for special ed evaluations. Waiting for a new evaluation will lead to more delays and result in more damage to the child. Multiply this scenario by the number of children who receive special education and related services in this school. 

Is anyone going to benefit from the decision to postpone IEP meetings? No one.

Who was harmed? Everyone. Yes, the child and parents were harmed. The child’s teachers and related services providers who have to play catch up for years or until the child drops out of school are also harmed. 

On March 21, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education published a 1. Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 While Serving Children with Disabilities. This Fact Sheet includes IDEA Timelines for state complaints, IEPs and IFSPs, eligibility determinations, reevaluations, and due process hearings. 

This Fact Sheet says, “We encourage school teams and parents to work collaboratively and creatively to meet IEP timeline requirements.” 

IDEA Timelines for IEPs

Initial IEPs: “If a child has been found eligible for services, the IEP Team must meet and develop an initial IEP within 30 days of the determination that the child needs special education and related services. (34 CFR § 300.323(c)(1)). 

Annual IEPs: “IEPs also must be reviewed annually. However, parents and the IEP Team may agree to conduct IEP meetings through alternate means, including videoconferencing or conference telephone calls. (34 CFR §300.328) 

Revising the IEP to Reflect Changes Due to COVID-19 Pandemic: “… the parent of a child with a disability and the public agency may agree to not convene an IEP Team meeting for the purposes of making changes, and instead develop a written document to amend or modify the child’s current IEP. (34 CFR §300.324(a)(4)(i)) 

IEPs Meetings in The Coronavirus Era 

We are living in difficult, unpredictable times. People are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. Expect team members to be confused about how to deal with the new reality. This response is normal and predictable. IEP team members – parents and school staff – need to be patient and helpful. Your goal is to work together creatively to develop the child’s IEP.

IEP teams need to start scheduling IEP meetings ASAP. Although IEP team members can’t meet face-to-face, they can can use video conferencing or calling services like Zoom, Google Duo, FaceTime or Skype. We have heard positive reports from attorneys, advocates and parents about online IEP meetings.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, last revised in 2004 provides alternative ways to hold IEP meetings: 

“School meetings do not have to be face-to-face. IEP and placement meetings, mediation meetings, and due process (IEP) resolution sessions may be convened by conference calls or video conferences.” (20 USC § 1414(e).

Based on all the foregoing, I would believe that the Districts will have to find a way to perform the IEPs timely and you should be prepared to handle it remotely.  I strongly urge every parent who is not already doing it, advise the District that you intend to record the IEP Meeting. Zoom Media has a function to record the meeting, as do others.  Worst case scenario, is that you use a tape (or digital recorder) for the meeting.  

If you want to discuss your specific situation, feel free to contact the Law Office of Stuart M. Nachbar, or email via our website.   We are now handling initial matters (consults) via Zoom Media, Ring Central or just via the phone if you are more comfortable in that setting. We offer a free no-cost consult to every person who mentions this advertisement, and we are conveniently located at 354 Eisenhower Parkway, Suite 2025 in Livingston, New Jersey.  We handle IEPs for all of Northern and Central New Jersey.