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Advocating For Your Child During the Pandemic

COVID-19 and the consequent school closures have presented unique challenges for students with IEPs and their parents.  We have previously covered distance learning, compensatory services, new IEP requirements, mental health, and online resources related to the pandemic.  Through today’s blog, we will provide you with sample language that you can use when advocating for your child’s rights during COVID-19.  Please be aware that these samples merely advise you of your rights under the law and do not constitute legal advice.

Many students with IEPs have experienced assessment delays as a result of the school closures.  Some school districts cite Senate Bill 117 as justification for this delay, claiming that the bill waives assessment timelines.  While Senate Bill 117 waives the initial 15-day timeline for school districts to produce an assessment plan, it does not waive the 60-day timeline for completion of an assessment.  If you have requested an assessment and the school district has refused to complete the assessment, this sample language may be useful:

On [date] I requested that the District conduct an assessment for my child in the area of  [ _________ ]. Pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1414(a)(1)(C)(i) the District has 60 days to conduct the assessment and hold an IEP meeting after receiving parent consent. Both my initial request and this correspondence indicate consent to this assessment.  Any waivers provided by Senate Bill 117 does not apply to federal law.

If the District cannot comply with the requirement to assess my child, then I am seeking that the District contract with a private provider as an alternative option, pursuant to guidance by the California Department of Education on March 17, 2020 and April 9, 2020.

Many students with IEPs are unable to access distance learning with the existing accommodations and supports written into their IEPs.  Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many school districts did not consider writing in additional accommodations for a distance-learning because they did not anticipate that they would be necessary.  Consequently, many students entered distance learning without supports that would enable them to participate in a distance learning curriculum.  If your child requires additional accommodations for distance learning, this sample language may be useful:

My child has been unable to access distance learning due to [ _______ ]. I am requesting an IEP meeting to determine what accommodations are necessary to ensure that my child’s IEP can be executed in a distance learning environment. Cal. Educ. Code § 56345

Many students with IEPs are unable to benefit from their distance learning curriculums without certain in-person services including, but not limited to, behavior intervention, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.  Guidance issued by the California Department of Education on April 9, 2020 states that, in exceptional circumstances, school districts may provide certain services to individual students in person “in order to maintain students’ mental/physical health and safety” and support access to distance learning.  If your child requires in-person services, this sample language may be useful:

Pursuant to guidance from the California Department of Education on April 9, 2020, I am requesting that the District provide my child with in-person services.

My child needs in-person services to maintain his/her mental and physical health and safety, as well as for the purpose of supporting his/her in accessing distance learning.

My child requires [select one or more: psychological services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and/or behavioral therapy] in person because [describe why your child needs it to maintain their health and safety].

These service providers are essential critical infrastructure workers, as defined by Executive Order N-33-20, and therefore the District is not precluded from providing the service in person.

If a student with an IEP does not receive the services written into his/her IEP or does not benefit from services that he/she received, it is possible that this student will experience regression or learning loss.  The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights stated, through its March 16, 2020 guidance, that compensatory services may be needed to make up for skills that may have been lost during COVID-19.  If your child has experienced learning loss, this sample language may be useful:

During the time period that my child was at home as a result of school closures, he/she was denied a free and appropriate education because he/she did not receive the following services in her IEP: [list services].

Even when the school provided the services, he/she could not access those services because [list reason the services could not be accessed].

Even when the school provided the services, he/she did not benefit from the services, which caused her to lose skills and experience learning loss in the areas of: [list the areas that skills were lost].

Pursuant to the March 16, 2020 Guidance from the Office of Civil Rights and Cal. Educ. Code §4350, I am requesting [insert # of hours] of compensatory services in the area of [ insert area] provided by a nonpublic agency in order to make up for the skills that my child lost during school closures.

I have provided a chart that documents the above issues.

Please schedule an IEP meeting to discuss the request, or provide a prior written notice pursuant to 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(3).

You can access a handout with this sample language and a weekly log to track services and accommodations by clicking on the documents attached here.