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A Report Back from A Conversation State Director of Special Education, California Department of Education

On May 4, 2020, Associate Attorney, Alex Rodriguez tuned into a conversation with Kristin Wright, State Director of Special Education at California Department of Education (“CDE”). This report back is a summary of the call, and does not represent legal advice.

Ms. Wright stated that parents with special needs children, who are struggling during the pandemic to get the appropriate supports or services, should reach out for help. She advised that Parents should work their way up the chain of command until they are able to find the answers to their questions. Those parents should first reach out to their student’s teachers, the school principals, the District’s Special Education Director, and then the regional SELPA director. In addition, Mrs. Wright emphasized that parents can and should request for an IEP meeting. The California Department of Education’s (“CDE”) view is that IEP meetings should still be happening virtually, and that District’s cannot refuse to hold meetings. If a school district is refusing to hold a virtual IEP meeting, then those parents should reach out to the regional SELPA.

Note, in our experience, the steps outlined by Ms. Wright may unreasonably delay the resolution of the issues. There is no requirement that Parents wait for the “chain of command” before exercising their procedural rights.  Those rights include the right to an IEP meeting within 30 days of request, the right to file a complaint with the California Department of Education, and the right to a due process hearing. Parents procedural rights have corresponding timelines and result in remedies that are not necessarily available through a more informal process.

            Per Ms. Wright, families across the state are reporting issues with virtual learning. Based on reports, some special needs students are thriving with the virtual learning, however, not all students are adaptive to virtual learning. There are some special needs students that need the one to one experience, and need the support of their providers to complete the work. For those special needs students that are struggling with virtual learning, Ms. Wright recommends that those parents should work up the chain of command, and request a virtual IEP team to discuss the issues.

Another major issue with virtual learning comes from the lack of access to technology.. The CDE has assembled a task force to work with internet service providers to provide internet to all students, and working with technology providers to hopefully provide laptops/tablets to all students. Some Districts have been sending buses with hot spots to help accommodate, and others have provided laptops to the students that are unable to afford them. In addition, the parents of students who cannot access technology should notify their IEP team, and/or call the SELPA director. “The CDE’s goal is to provide all students the ability to participate in distance learning.”

Inability of students to access their instructions due to the unavailability of technology may be a violation of their rights under both the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It is the District’s responsibility to ensure that all public-school students can attend school.

            Ms. Wright reports that there has been an increase in reports of mental health issues for many students. Multiple families are reporting that their student needs mental health services, however, those families are unable to get any assessment at this time. Mrs. Wright suggested that those families call a virtual IEP meeting to request updated services to be put into place during virtual learning. Mrs. Wright reported that many mental health services are starting to move to virtual, and families should be able to access those service. For more information, on April 23, 2020, the CDE had a webinar on mental health.

            Nevertheless, despite all the recommendation for parents to work their way up the chain of command or request an IEP meeting, there are some students that are going to make regressions during virtual learning.  During the pandemic, the offer of FAPE is going to look different than a traditional IEP. Currently, the CDE is hosting meetings with Superintendents across the state to address these issues. As of now, the CDE does not plan to have a blanket policy for compensatory education hours for special needs students, and instead all compensatory hours will have to be done on an individual basis once students are back on the school sites. Mrs. Wright commented that the IEP team will be critical to determine the amount of compensatory hours in the future.

However, if you as a parent feel that your child is not being provided appropriate compensatory hours, services, assessments, and/or accommodations, then the Law Offices of Hirji & Chau, LLP are available to assist you in your case.  We have provided a template form to track those services, here.

Related Blog: http://lawyer4children.com/2020/04/compensatory-education-during-covid-19-school-closures/