Be Proactive: Managing Your Child’s IEP or 504 Plan When School Is Virtual

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eLearning raises many challenges for students with IEPs or 504 Plans. Here’s how to get them the educational services they need and are entitled to by law.

The pandemic put an end to many things school-related, from packed school buses and lunchrooms to field trips and school sports. In some areas of the country, it also put an end to physically going to school, at least for now.

For school districts that have started this school year completely virtually, eLearning is presenting many challenges for parents, students, teachers, and administrators.

If your child is enrolled in school under an IEP or 504 Plan, your challenges are a bit different. Your job will be to make sure the arrangements that were agreed upon previously are implemented, to the best of everyone’s abilities, in this new environment.

The law is on your side 

In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) made it clear that it is the schools’ responsibility to “make every effort to provide special education and related services” during the pandemic. A school is only excused from providing IEP/504 services if it is completely closed, and no education is provided to any students.

That directive left school administrators and teachers scrambling to put in place eLearning initiatives specifically geared toward students with an IEP or 504 Plan. The uncertainty surrounding school openings nationwide could not have helped their efforts.

Under “normal” circumstances, it is important to be proactive and assert your rights to get what your child needs. These are not normal circumstances, and that applies double. Be sure to get in front of any difficulties you are experiencing before the situation escalates.

If you find your child is not getting the services he or she needs as the school year begins, or that the provisions outlined in the existing IEP or 504 Plan are lacking, there are steps you can take.

First, review your existing plan

Read through your child’s IEP or 504 Plan thoroughly (if you do not have a copy of the latest version, request one from the school). Take notes about what has been working for your child and where you believe it falls short. Use notes from your last annual meeting, if available, and make a list of your questions and concerns.

Then, consider how the plan will need to be revised because your child will not be able to be physically present in school.

Contact the school for a virtual meeting

As parents, you should have an open line of communication with the educational team that is supporting your child. It is essential that your relationship with the team is collaborative and cooperative.

Even if your annual meeting date is not pending, request a virtual meeting to review your child’s plan in light of the changes brought on by the necessity of eLearning.

You know your child’s strengths and preferences and are the best advocate for the type of provisions he or she will need to thrive in an eLearning environment. If, like most children who learn differently from others, your child responds much better to in-person contact and is having trouble adjusting to virtual interactions, be sure to raise that point when meeting with the educational team.

Keep in mind that crisis-mandated eLearning is still new and will continue to evolve to fit the needs of students and teachers. Your suggestions could help improve the process for other parents and students facing similar difficulties.

Know your rights

If you are worried that the eLearning plan your school has put in place to accommodate your child is inadequate, you can advocate to change it. By law, your child has the right to certain services, but it is the school’s prerogative to interpret the federal and state guidelines as to how those services are provided.

In its March 2020 statement, the U.S. DOE recognized that “there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided.” A certain amount of flexibility is allowed the schools. Compensatory or make up services can be made available on a case-by-case basis if determined appropriate by the IEP/504 educational team and school administrators.

Fill in the gaps at home

Parental engagement is a vital part of any child’s happiness and success in school, especially during a time of crisis. Since parents must now fill in as teaching partners in eLearning, it is especially important for children with special educational needs to receive ongoing parental support.

Working with your child to set up a home space that mimics a familiar school environment can help ease the transition. The change to eLearning will necessitate new schedules and routines. A dedicated place for eLearning in the home is important, as are educational tools such as chalkboards, whiteboards, or large calendar systems.

There are many things you can assist with from your side of the screen, including implementing these virtual learning substitutions for some common accommodations. 

While school is closed, it’s up to you to help your child socially as well. Try to arrange safe ways for your child to interact with other children. If possible, organize small play dates or arrange for visits to see small groups of friends.

Reach out

This is all overwhelming on the best days. Know that there are resources to help and others who are experiencing similar challenges.

The Learning Lab can help. We are educators, and we know how to cooperate, collaborate, and communicate with other educators. We like to say that “We speak teacher lingo” and can help you navigate the sea of acronyms parents encounter when trying to advocate for their children.

We have adjusted and fine-tuned our services and safety protocols in the wake of this pandemic. One of our newer programs, eLearning Lab Support, helps bridge the gap between what your child needs and what their school can provide virtually. It includes weekly learning plan with daily goals, accountability check-ins, and online learning logistics and support.

At Learning Lab, we can provide the insight and assistance children and their parents need to meet the unique challenges of the upcoming school year. We support the full ecosystem of children who are smart but struggle in a traditional school setting. Find out how we can help your child.

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