COVID-19 Special Education

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The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) Office of Special Education is dedicated to gathering and creating local, regional and national resources in the area of special education. This website is designed to share information to help schools, educators, students, parents and caregivers.  Guidance and resource documents will be updated periodically throughout the school year.

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School Reentry Considerations for Special Education

Special education professionals and families are overcoming the stress and closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as they strive to serve students with disabilities. No plan to reopen can succeed without the input and partnership of the family, school and community.

Schools and districts should consider how alternative schedules, extended periods of remote learning, and intermittent school closures may impact students receiving special education services. Schools and districts need to ensure that students have meaningful and effective access to the general education environment and instruction. Least restrictive environment (LRE) considerations should be central to decision-making. Below are questions and potential risk factors to guide planning:

Guiding Questions

  1. How will schools and districts ensure students with disabilities understand new expectations, such as social distancing?

  2. How will schools and districts ensure social distancing expectations are met across all special education environments?

  3. How will schools and districts effectively plan for, use, and supervise special education paraprofessionals?

  4. How will schools and districts ensure backlogged IEP meetings, initial evaluations, reevaluations and special education referrals are implemented in a timely manner?

  5. How will schools make data driven instructional decisions, including recoupment of unfinished learning during the distance learning period for students with disabilities?

  6. How will schools and districts ensure that special education evaluations and reevaluations continue without interruption?

  7. How will schools and districts allow reasonable time for special education staff to collect data on students with disabilities’ present levels of performance in order to determine the impact on progress that occurred during COVID?

  8. How will schools and districts ensure students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) are provided a free, appropriate public education?

  9. How will schools and districts ensure students with developmental challenges or those who are medically fragile are kept safe while in the school building?

  10. How will schools and districts ensure individualized contingency plans meet students’ needs when instruction needs to take place through an alternative learning situation (i.e. alternate schedules, periods of distance learning)?

  11. How will schools and districts ensure that students with disabilities have meaningful and effective access to general education and instruction?

  12. How will schools and districts accommodate social distancing requirements while providing services to students who require 1:1 assistance and supervision?

  13. How will schools and districts ensure students who struggle with transitions are successful during sudden disruptions in routines and schedules?

  14. How will schools and districts ensure all IEP teams and educators have access to assessments, supports and instructional supports to meet individual student’s assistive technology needs?

  15. How will students who are transition age continue to participate in work-based or community learning experiences?

  16. How will schools and districts plan for positive behavior interventions and supports to be in place and clearly communicated to all staff before students return?

  17. How will schools and districts ensure staff and other students are kept safe when responding to a student’s escalated or aggressive behaviors?

  18. How will schools and districts make sure students who utilize sensory spaces (trampolines, squeeze machines, swings, etc.) will be free to use them when needed?

  19. How will schools and districts ensure shared sensory space equipment is properly sanitized as each student uses the equipment?

Parent Guidance

Frequently Asked Questions for Families and Parents of Students with Disabilities during COVID-19.

During this time there are some important things to remember. Any actions taken by a district or school regarding closures are for the safety of all students and school personnel working with students. As districts and schools are determining the most appropriate steps to ensure student and staff safety, we want to take this time to provide guidance relating to students with disabilities and their services. It is extremely important for families and schools to collaborate and communicate regarding services for students with disabilities.

What will happen to my child’s services when a school is closed but educational services continue to be provided to all students?

  1. If a district has extended school closures but continues to provide educational services to all students, the district will remain responsible for the free appropriate public education (FAPE) of its students eligible for special education services with an individualized education program (IEP).
  2. Districts should be communicating with parents and guardians prior to, during, and after a school closure regarding their child’s IEP services. Districts and schools will work to ensure that all students receive services to the most appropriate extent possible.
  3. Although special education or related services may need to be adjusted, IEP teams should work to ensure that a student on an IEP receives services comparable to all other students. Services might include instructional packets, online learning, or some other learning adapted to the student’s needs and location.
  4. After an extended closure, districts are responsible for reviewing how the closure impacted the delivery of special education and related services to students eligible for special education services. Students may need additional services or extended school year services to make up missed services.
  5. If annual IEP reviews or eligibility reviews are due during a school closure, please work with your school closely to meet as soon as possible.  The team could meet in person or through alternate means, such as video or audio conference calls.

What will happen to may child's services if school remains open, but my child is sick and sent home?

  1. Students who are sick and who need to stay home for more than ten days need to receive homebound instruction.
  2. The IEP team must meet to determine how to provide services for your child. This may include instructional packets, online instruction, or some other type of learning adapted to the student’s needs and location.

What if a parent of a child receiving early childhood special education services chooses to keep their child at home during the COVID pandemic due to health or personal preferences, and opts out of distance learning? 

  1. If a parent chooses to keep their preschool aged child with an IEP home for precautionary reasons, and the IEP team is not recommending homebound services because the child does not currently have health issues of concern, the district is not obligated to provide homebound services or COVID Compensatory Services. 
  2. However, IEP teams serving a child with special health circumstances are encouraged to reconvene the IEP team to discuss alternative provisions of service.
  3. Actions and decisions, including parent COVID preference and parent participation in the discussion should be clearly documented in a Prior Written Notice.  The Prior Written Notice should also clearly indicate that the school district is offering a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and will maintain communication with the family about the appropriate time to resume the provision of services stated in the IEP.  
  4. During the period when the parent is not accessing special education services based on COVID related preferences, IEP and Evaluation timelines will remain in effect.
  5. During the time the preschool aged child is not receiving early childhood special education services based on parent COVID preference, school districts will enter an end date of services in STARS, but not complete an Exit Form in TIENET. 

Additional guidance

Resources