COVID-19 Michigan Special Education Update

by Tricia Luker, Senior Staff Advocate

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s order closing Michigan public schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year poses significant challenges to parents of students who receive special education services. The Arc of Oakland County offers this short article summarizing how the school closing may impact the delivery of special education services to our member families and students.

Introduction:

The coronavirus [Covid-19] has created challenges not encountered in over 100 years. Governmental, educational and health officials are still in the learning stages. The Michigan economy is significantly disrupted, and no family has escaped the impact of the virus. It truly seems like everyone has been forced to jump and then to build wings on the way down. It is that way, too, with how special education services are going to be provided over the next several months.

Here are some general facts that will apply to special education services in Michigan while schools remain closed:

* Individual public-school districts, intermediate school districts [ISD] and public charter schools [district] will create and implement plans to deliver general and special education services to their districts for the remainder of the school year.

* Districts are to make individualized efforts to decide how to meet a particular student’s special education/IEP needs during the closure without requiring IEP meetings to amend an IEP.

* If a district chooses to provide online access to its general education students, the district or ISD must make the same access and services available to students who receive special education services.

* Districts are encouraged to use internet, phone or other available electronic resources to meet with parents and to perform annual IEP team meeting functions or meetings required by special circumstances.

* The general consensus is that the process of providing special education services is going to require flexibility and communication from all participants. Problems that arise during the closure may need immediate, temporary adjustments and require curative actions after school begins again.

The Arc of Oakland County has identified four areas of concern for special education students and their families that may arise during the school closure. These areas are:

* Extended School Year [ESY]/Compensatory Education [Comp. Ed.] – It appears inevitable that special education students cannot and will not receive the same educational services during the closure that they would have received had school remained in session. Students might experience some loss in previously acquired learning or not show the expected growth and development anticipated in the students’ IEPs. Many students may show both regression and slower than expected growth. During the closure parents and educators will not have access to the resources necessary to remedy the problems that might arise. Parents should expect that a first order of business for their child’s IEP Team once school has returned will be to evaluate the student’s educational level of performance given the extended time out of school. Parents should anticipate that ESY and Comp. Ed. services will be a large part of the first IEP held after the closure.

* Related Services – While educational personnel will be expected to provide all related services required by a student’s IEP, it is likely that not all services will be available off-campus or in group settings typically used at school. Once school resumes, the student’s IEP Team will evaluate the type and amount of services delivered during the closure and consider what remedial actions are required.

* Internet/Electronic Learning – Some districts may choose to offer online or electronically-based learning programs to help students with disabilities make progress on their curriculum or IEP goals and objectives. Many computer-learning programs are not specifically developed for students with disabilities. Not all students with disabilities will have computer abilities that will allow them to access the programs. This issue must be evaluated as the student is engaging in the electronic learning. It might be necessary to modify or terminate electronic learning programs to preserve the student’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

* Suspension and Expulsion – Some students with disabilities may have been suspended from school at the time of the school closure. The Michigan Department of Education has not yet issued rules or guidance stating how those who are suspended will receive educational services during the closure. The Arc of Oakland County will provide information on this issue as it becomes available.

Michigan students and their parents are living through an experience like none they have ever seen. The borders of conventional school education, including supports and services provided in that setting, have suddenly been removed. Neither the students nor the parents have been prepared for what education should look like given this new environment. Nobody, student, parent or educational professional, has any idea of what school will look like once it reopens.

During the Covid-19 closure, the parents will become de facto home schoolers. The school district likely will hold a formal or informal IEP Team meetings once school reconvenes, probably in the fall. Parents will be asked to update school personnel on their student’s educational activities during the closure. The school will use this information for the following reasons:
* to determine the student’s Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance [PLAAFP] when the student returns to school;
* to understand and document the student’s educational activities during the closure;
* to assess the student’s progress on IEP goals and objectives;
* to identify the student’s goals and objectives moving forward; and
* to determine whether the student has regressed or requires compensatory education as a result of the school closure.

As the student’s primary educational provider during the closure, the parents will be the principal source for data describing the student’s educational activities during the closure. This is the parent’s opportunity to share methods and resources they used [including community resources] with their child.

What follows are suggestions parents might use to help guide their efforts to document their child’s educational activity and progress during the closure. The four areas of documentation are:

* Student’s baseline status at the time school closed – this is the parents’ opportunity to describe their observation of their child’s level of performance at the time school closed. The parents may wish to describe their perception of the following areas:

o IEP/transition/related service goals;
o Academic areas;
o Social/emotional/behavioral;
o Communication;
o Motor skills/sensory needs;
o Personal care/safety; and,
o Any other areas of concern identified during the closure.

* District-provided educational and related service activities – Parents should keep notes on the child’s participation in district-provided learning activities and related services. Areas to document include:

o Internet learning – how often and how well the student participated in computer or internet learning activities;
o Face-to-face contacts with school personnel – times, dates and description of activities and outcome for the student;
o Related services – How, when, where and for how long the services were provided;

* Home/parent-led educational and related service activities – This is the parents’ chance to describe what they did to educate their child and how the child responded. Parents should consider documenting each interaction or activity and describe the following:

o What activity – what parent did with child;
o Methodology – how parent presented the activity and assisted child in completing it;
o Resources used – computer; outside resource [tutor, learning center, etc.];
o Time/place – Where and for how long did the activity take place;
o Student performance during activity – Did s/he participate? Any challenges during activity? etc.; and,
o Student outcome – What student got out of activity?

* Student’s progress and status at time of return to school – This is the point at which the parent’s data collection becomes most important to the student’s future educational programming. At that time the district will determine the following:

o The students present level of performance [PLAAFP] at the time of return to school – the parent’s data may vary from the district’s perspective;
o What IEP mandated services were not provided during the closure period;
o Whether and how much the student’s educational status regressed during the closure period;
o Whether the student should receive ESY or Comp Ed services; and,
o The student’s, goals and objectives moving forward.

Conclusion:

Covid-19 continues to threaten the very lives of Michigan citizens. It also threatens the ability of the schools to return to “normal” once schools reopen. Parents have every right to be concerned about their child’s education. This article has focused on the more substantial (“substantive” ?) issues created by the school closure and how parents can prepare themselves to advocate for their children during and after the closure. Throughout the coming months The Arc of Oakland County will monitor state and federal actions taken to address the closure. Parents are encouraged to contact The Arc of Oakland County staff with questions, comments or concerns.

Every family faces challenging circumstances, especially now. The Arc of Oakland County is here to provide services and supports to help lighten the anxiety and workload created by the crisis.