Fall Schools Reopening for 2020-21

There is no one decision. Schools in the Fall of 2020 will look different and each family will need to make a choice.

The Federation for Children with Special Needs has been a trusted resource for decades and we will continue to provide you with the information you need as schools reopen.  We have listed the latest educational and health guidance documents below, as well as some FCSN resource pages.  The Frequently Asked Questions section will be updated regularly, please send us your questions or contact our Information Center.

  1. CALL: 617-236-7210 or 800-331-0688 and Family TIES: 800-905-8437
  2. FILL THE ONLINE INTAKE FORM: https://fcsn.org/ptic/information-center-intake-form/
  3. EMAIL US: info@fcsn.org

FAQs — How to Plan for Fall

  1. Q: Has the Special Education framework changed because of COVID-19?
  2. No. Despite Covid-19, schools must continue to provide FAPE; deliver special education services and programming; and comply with timelines (e.g., for completion of assessment, convening Team meetings, issuing IEPs).
  1. Q: What should I expect when the district offers a delivery model for an IEP service that is different from that specified in the IEP? 
  2. A parent should receive written notification of the change in delivery of services. An IEP amendment is not required, nor does the notice have the effect of amending the IEP or altering stay-put rights. Finally, there is no change in placement under the IEP, whether the model is in-person, remote or hybrid. Note that while notice of the change in delivery of services is required, consent of the parent is not.
  1. Q: In the Spring, many annual review IEP meetings, evaluations and/or parts of evaluation were postponed. Should I expect similar delays this fall, especially given the current backlog?
  2. Yes and No. DESE has made it clear that districts will need to address their backlogs and at the same time maintain timelines for annual review Team meetings and evaluations for students who are newly referred and/or due for an evaluation. Realistically, strict compliance with timelines will be very challenging.
  1. Q: Can parents be required to sign waivers that release the districts from requirements such as providing IEP-related services, conducting assessments, and complying with legal timelines?
  2. No. Although in recent months many districts insisted on waivers as a condition to providing some services, guidance from both state and federal authorities strongly suggests that they are invalid. Parents who have already signed should consider notifying the district in writing that they have learned that the waiver is illegal and are therefore withdrawing their previous consent to excuse the district from any IEP-related obligations.
  1. Q: Recent Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidance prioritizes safe in-person return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings. May I choose remote instruction even if an in-person option is available for my child?
  1. A: Yes. At the parent’s option, a student may continue to receive remote instruction, or a hybrid model, even if the district is offering in-person programming. Neither a doctor’s note, nor submission of DESE’s home/hospital instruction form, will be required.
  1. Q: If my child starts the school year remotely, may I send him/her back to in-person learning?
  2. Yes, parents can choose to send their children back to school to in-person learning if they started the year remotely. Parents and school districts are highly encouraged to be in close communication about any changes.
  1. Q: Are special education students being prioritized for in-person instruction this fall?
  1. Yes. Preschoolers with disabilities and students with “significant and complex needs” are prioritized for in-person instruction even if others in the district are remote/hybrid. DESE guidance says: “These students should receive as much in-person instruction as is feasible within the health and safety parameters in effect…”
  1. Q: What does DESE mean by “significant and complex needs?”
  2. Examples include: students identified as “high need” on the IEP; students who cannot access remote learning due to their disability; students who primarily use aided and augmentative communication; homeless students; students in foster/congregate care; and English Language Learners.
  1. Q: Can parents expect in-person delivery of special education services, even if they do not opt to send their kids to school?
  1. Yes, when feasible. DESE says districts should use “best efforts” to ensure that students with disabilities, particularly those with complex or significant needs, receive as many services in-person as possible, “whether full-time, part-time, or in a student’s home or community-based setting.” It is anticipated that many districts will argue against certain models of in-person delivery based on “infeasibility.”
  1. Q: Remote instruction provided in the Spring did not work for my child with special needs. Will it be any different in the Fall if I choose a full or partial remote service model?
  1. In addition to the new directive for in-person instruction, DESE has been very clear that in the fall remote learning for special education students must be based on an Instruction and Services model of delivery (e.g., structured lessons, teletherapy, video-based lessons, etc.) and not on a Resources and Supports model (e.g., packets and assignments).
  1. Q: Will a district’s obligation to monitor my child’s progress under the IEP depend on whether instruction is remote or in-person?
  1. No. Whether instruction is in-person or remote, districts must continue to monitor student progress, collect data, and issue progress reports at least as often as regular education students receive report cards.
  1. Q: What is the difference between homeschooling and remote learning?
  2. Remote learning means learning provided by the school district to enrolled students that happens outside the traditional classroom. Homeschooling is a type of alternative private education. For a child of compulsory school age, a homeschooling program must be approved in advance by the superintendent or school committee of the district of residence. For the purposes of this question, we are not referring to the learning that occurs at home while kids are still enrolled in classes in their district.
  1. Q: Are students who are homeschooled entitled to IEP services?
  2. Yes. Homeschooled students are treated the same as kids who attend private schools (without an out-of-district placement). In other words, districts have the same obligations regarding evaluation, IEP development, and service delivery. Parents should expect that IEP services will be delivered in person, if feasible.
  1. Q: Will my child be able to continue to learn in an inclusion environment, even if s/he usually received services both inside and outside the classroom during the day?
  2. DESE’s guidance urges districts to develop classroom assignments and service delivery models so that students can continue to learn in the LRE and also maintain health and safety protocols. For example, DESE suggests that schools may want to consider providing special education (“B Grid”) services remotely from the classroom. They also suggest that some classrooms might need to have a marginally reduced number of students to accommodate specialists, etc. This will undoubtedly be very challenging to figure out.
  1. Q: Has DESE’s guidance included comments on in-person instruction for students with certain types of needs?
  • Yes. Examples include the following:
  • Prioritizing in-person instruction for preschoolers, as well as noting the probable need for transparent masks for these kids.
  • Regarding transition-age students, instructing districts to work with community-based providers, colleges, and parents to develop plans that will allow students to access as much programming as possible.
  • Acknowledging that students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or otherwise rely on visual and facial cues to communicate may need to wear transparent marks; also, districts may also have to plan for the presence of an interpreter.
  • Clarifying that parents of students with high-risk medical conditions are the “final” decision makers with regard to whether in-person instruction is feasible.
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  1. Q: Children with disabilities who turned three after March 15 have been eligible for extended Early Intervention (EI) services. What happens when school starts?
  2. EI services for kids whose third birthdays are between March 15 and August 31 can continue until eligibility is determined and the child has transitioned to special education, which should occur no later than October 15. Assessing and determining eligibility for these children, as well as those whose third birthdays occur after August 31, will likely be a significant challenge.
  1. Q: Assuming my child with disabilities qualifies for a preschool placement in my district, is it realistic to expect that s/he will be in an inclusive setting?
  2. Maybe not. DESE acknowledges the unique challenges related to preschool programming for kids with disabilities and anticipates the need for an alternative compliance waiver under Massachusetts regulations.

FCSN Resources

DESE Educational Guidance

Health Guidance