COVID-19 Update from Sankey Law Offices
We hope you are all staying healthy and safe. What a crazy time. We are certainly in uncharted territory right now and everyday things seem to be changing drastically. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is trying hard to provide updated guidance for school districts in accordance with the requirements that are being issued locally and nationwide. Our office is monitoring everything from DESE and the US Department of Education and are happy to answer any questions you have or brainstorm with you.
In short, Governor Baker ordered all Massachusetts public and private schools to close down as of March 17, 2020 until April 7, 2020. As a result, schools are currently trying to determine what, if any, learning opportunities students will receive while schools are closed. There is currently no federal or state mandate for schools to provide any education to students during this time. However, in Massachusetts, DESE is recommending that schools provide students access to educational resources. Schools are not required – and it is not recommended by DESE – that schools try to provide educational opportunities equivalent to an actual school day (for example- many colleges are providing virtual classes or switching to online classes for the rest of the school year and DESE is not recommending this at this time). This is the same for special education services, meaning schools are not required to provide a free appropriate public education or individual services to special education students while out of school (unless schools provide educational opportunities to general education students as described above).
Instead, DESE wants students to continue the continuity of learning through access to educational resources. What this looks like is left for each school district to decide, so it will likely be different across the state and even different within individual districts, grades, and specific classes. If schools choose to provide access to educational resources to the general education population – which most are doing – they must also provide access to educational resources to special education students as well. Schools are also being encouraged to reach out to students in various ways to stay connected. It may be difficult to reach all students so DESE is encouraging schools to be creative and try their best.
Once schools are back in session, there are some special education students who may require additional services because of this closure. Districts will need to review how the closure impacted its students and determine on an individual basis if some students require additional services as a result of this time being out of school. DESE recommends that IEP teams consider factors such as the student’s academic progress to date towards their IEP goals, the nature of the service(s) missed, the frequency of the service(s) missed, reports from providers, previous educational history, and history and concerns of substantial regression. This is not equivalent to “compensatory services” so not all students will be eligible for this.
Other disruptions to note include team meetings, evaluations or reevaluations, mediations, and due process hearings. Schools can choose to hold virtual IEP meetings but are not required to. DESE has made it clear that it will be very flexible with timelines for IEPs, IEP meetings, evaluations, etc. The BSEA is not allowing any in-person meetings for the foreseeable future, including mediations, BSEA hearings, etc. Remote participation may be an option.
Here is a link to DESE’s most recent information for schools regarding COVID-19. It provides answers to a lot of questions that everyone has right now and will continue to be updated by DESE with information.
This is a worldwide crisis and is new to all of us. Things are changing on a daily basis but we are all in this together. We plan to continue to work and welcome any questions you have so please reach out. Stay healthy and safe.