Do children with an IEP have to return to school this fall?

A presentation at PH is awesome by James Adams

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Our public school will be holding classes at the school this fall. My child has an IEP, and I don’t want him to attend because I’m worried about the coronavirus. What are my options? It is perfectly normal to be concerned about your child being in close quarters with teachers and other students, given the situation with the coronavirus. You are not the only family that is concerned.

The first thing to know is that all children must receive some form of schooling. This is the law in every state. So you have to enroll your child in either a public school, a private school, or a home school program.

Any of these options can be done virtually. There are many private schools online, and homeschooling is becoming more common. Students in private schools or who are in a homeschool program can obtain services themselves from public schools. This is usually done through a service plan. In some school districts, children can even participate in extracurricular activities.

However, there are drawbacks. Private schools can be expensive, and homeschooling requires a big commitment. Also, your child may not receive all the IEP services he or she would receive in a public school.

Another option is a virtual public school. Several states have online schools that any child can attend. For example, Pennsylvania’s online public schools are free and must provide special education to students like any other public school. One benefit of online public schools is that there will be more continuity with your child’s IEP.

It is a little more complicated if you want to continue in your local public school. You may be concerned that they will insist that your child attends in person. You can ask the school if they will offer a virtual education option this fall. Some schools will.

Many traditional public schools are planning for students to attend in person on a staggered basis. The school can only accommodate a limited number of children on its premises when social distancing is practiced. Your school may allow your child to continue learning from home. You may even be able to request that the school pay for online learning, which is often inexpensive.

When communicating with the school, use the IEP (or 504 plan) process. Convene an IEP team meeting. At the meeting, make a reasonable case for why the school should allow your child to continue learning virtually while still receiving special education. Point out anything that shows that your child was doing well while learning from home, such as completing homework or that her skills improved.

Tying your request to your child’s needs can help you make your case. For example, distance learning might be best if your child has a compromised immune system.

You will have an even more compelling argument if you reference a specific disability outlined in your child’s IEP. Suppose your child receives therapy for anxiety. If his return to school might increase his anxiety, it is reasonable for him to continue his education virtually.

Keep in mind that there is still a lot up in the air. COVID-19 is a new and unprecedented challenge for schools. There are still no clear answers as to what schools need to do when returning to face-to-face teaching. Regardless of what you decide to do, maintain communication with the school and clarify your child’s needs.

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