Thursday, March 19, 2020

Special Education (SPED) and Remote Learning

In a previous post, I shared some ideas as well as strategies that districts could embrace to establish a realistic remote learning plan taking into consideration both digital and non-digital pathways.  One aspect I did not address that keeps coming up here in the United States is how to address special education students as per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Like everything else, thanks to COVID-19, this is uncharted territory as well. However, the US Department of Education (USDOE) has released some guidance that everyone should be aware of. You can access it HERE.

In this post, I am going to highlights considerations for special education educations students where a local education agency (LEA), such as a school or district, has initiated a remote learning plan.  Below are some specific pieces from the report I have pulled where I also add my thoughts.
If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§ 300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR § 104.33 (Section 504).
The translation is pretty straightforward in my eyes.  If your district or school has any sort of remote learning going on during a closure, then accommodations have to be met for kids that need them.
IEP teams may, but are not required to, include distance learning plans in a child’s IEP that could be triggered and implemented during a selective closure due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Such contingent provisions may include the provision of special education and related services at an alternate location or the provision of online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, and may identify which special education and related services, if any, could be provided at the child’s home.
If your school has not closed yet, consider getting a contingency plan in place.  In the case that you have already closed, IEP teams can meet physically (many schools are having just staff in to plan for remote learning) or virtually to modify plans. Protocols must be established to safeguard sensitive information.

The USDOE also released this fact sheet that outlines how to protect the civil rights of students during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Guidelines are one thing, but seeing what it looks like in the field is another. Thus, I decided to reach out to some educators in my home state of New Jersey.  The NJDOE, under the leadership to Dr. Lamont Repollet, had every district develop a plan on March 5 well before any school closed.  These then had to be submitted back to the NJDOE as soon as possible.  Knowing that this was the case, I sent an inquiry to two administrators to see how their districts were serving special education students.  Below you can see the comprehensive plans that have been implemented.

I would love to hear how your district or school is meeting IDEA requirements for your SPED students who are engaged in remote learning. Please consider sharing in the comments section below. 

For more ideas follow #remotelearning on social media. 


  1. At Donovan Catholic we are continuing with Child Study Meetings through a voice conference calling system.
    Our Paraprofessionals will be entering the picture next week and coming digitally through the Zoom App. They will be logging onto the classes they have been assigned to and working with the students that have Special Education Services.
    Our Teachers who provide Supplemental Instruction and Comp Education by creating their own Zoom Virtual Classrooms. The students will go into the Zoom Classroom during the assigned class time.

  2. We are in New Jersey. We are using Google Classroom. Each classified student has their own private classroom and the general education classroom folder. Any lesson the general education students are getting our classified students get plua they have their own with modified work based on their needs. Our CST teams continue meetings virtual and support parents and teachers. Our related service providers are providing activities to help maintain skills. Our self-contained programs are meeting with each child daily to provide one to one instruction via zoom while sharing thier screen with a Google slide and using yhe built in whitboard. Teachers are also using Zoom to hold Morning Meetings for all students. We contine to find new and exciting ways to keep our students with disabilities engaged and educated.