Challenges Serving Special Education Students Virtually

As the pandemic lingers, schools continue to grapple with the educational challenges resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020.  Bridging the gap for special education students is especially complex.  While schools offer compensatory and other services, districts may still face legal challenges regarding the handling of services during the pandemic.

Recently, Harmony Public Schools successfully defended against a parent’s claim that the district failed to provide the student a free appropriate public education during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. One of the main issues was whether the student demonstrated progress while receiving virtual instruction and related services.

The record showed that the student had a comprehensive plan in place when the school shut down from mid-March to the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.  The school re-opened for the 2020-2021 school year but also offered virtual instruction. The student’s ARD Committee offered the student compensatory services to make up for services lost during the shutdown.

The family chose to have the student receive instruction and related services at home and requested that a staff member go to the student’s home to deliver it. The district declined this request and delivered the student’s services virtually. The student’s attendance for virtual instruction and therapy, however, was inconsistent, which impacted the student’s educational progress.

The hearing officer in that case determined that, despite these challenges, the district provided the student a FAPE and he demonstrated measurable progress. According to the hearing officer, even with deficiencies, when viewed as a whole, the student’s program was appropriate, and the district was able to show that the student made progress in many areas.  The hearing officer’s decision can be accessed here.

This scenario has no doubt played out in many school districts across the state.  For more on how to navigate virtual instruction and services, you won’t want to miss Holly Wardell’s talk “Serving Students in the Virtual or Home Environment” at the Ed311 and TCASE Spring Conference on Special Education Law. Holly is an accomplished special education lawyer and named partner at the Eichelbaum & Wardell law firm in Austin.  Please join us either April 13, 2022, in Irving or April 27, 2022, in New Braunfels for this talk and a whole lot more!

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