COVID-19 Equitable Online Learning through the Lens of Student Needs

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Supporting North Dakota students through distance learning requires thoughtful planning and includes the provision of accommodations and services detailed in student individualized education programs (IEPs) and 504 plans. The intent of this document is to provide ND administrators and educational teams with resources to assist in the planning and implementation of equitable distance learning services for all students. Regardless of which type of distance learning is utilized, students with disabilities may need additional IEP planning and supports in place to access and process the curricular content to effectively engage in learning. North Dakota school districts need to ensure quality, access, and accountability of distance learning options and ensure they meet federal IDEA and other civil rights regulations.

In preparation to offer distance learning opportunities, it is recommended the IEP/504 Team consider the following:

  • Review accommodations and/or assistive technology currently documented in the student’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Consider how the accommodations or assistive technology supports that are documented will be provided through distance learning.
  • Collaborate with the student and parent/guardian on how to access the accommodation or assistive technology required.
  • Address additional barriers to student access to general education curriculum, progress towards IEP goals or grade level standards and make adjustments as necessary.

Environmental Considerations:

A change in learning environments can add a layer of complexity and new barriers that may not have been considered initially. When shifting from a traditional classroom setting to distance learning, the IEP team may have to address change of placement options within the LRE continuum of services. In planning for distance learning, teams must consider if an IEP or 504 written with a traditional classroom in mind adequately outlines the supports needed for a student to participate in distance learning. IEP teams supporting students with more complex needs may need to consider how these students will be provided individualized learning opportunities. IEP or 504 team members will need opportunities to collaborate and plan with the parent/guardian for distance learning to be effective and equitable. If the IEP or 504 team has determined that distance learning necessitates additional supports, an amendment may be completed to outline the additional accommodations needed in the new environment. Parent/Guardian and student will need to have a clear understanding how accommodations will take place. Parent/Guardian of students with an IEP will receive a Prior Written Notice of Action to clarify how specially designed instruction and accommodations will take place.

Following Universal Design for Learning Principles improves Equity in Distance Learning

Regardless of the environment, it is crucial to set up the learning environment with principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind. UDL focuses on an overarching approach to designing meaningful learning opportunities that address learner variability and suggests
purposeful, proactive attention to the design of goals, assessments, methods, and materials. When selecting distance learning options, IEP/504 teams must consider accessibility for all students. According to the Office of Civil Rights, the person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally, and independently as a person without a disability.

*Adapted from the Special Education Technology Center-licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License