Coronavirus and Schools: Provision of Related Services During the COVID-19 Closures
Can you provide clarification on the provision of related services in the IEP if a district is only doing enrichment/practice and it is under a voluntary basis? Does the district still need to provide the related services?
We have advised that the legal expectations you will have to strive to meet will vary based on which end of the “continuity of education” continuum your district falls. If you are providing mandatory new instruction to your general population, the “goal post” for instruction provided to students with disabilities will look like compliance with the full FAPE mandate, including all the goal-directed instruction and related services you can possibly muster. (You will not hit this target, of course, but it is the target toward which you will be expected to strive.) If, on the other hand, you are providing only optional “enrichment” activities, the “goal post” is a little nearer: accessibility. You will be expected to ensure that the “enrichment” opportunities you are offering are as universally designed as possible, to ensure that the broadest array of students can meaningfully access and participate in them. The attached decision tree, which we issued last week, illustrates this difference in addressing “continuity of education.” (We mislabeled it “continuity of instruction,” but no matter. The term only came into being at about the same time the virus did).
Because related services are intended under the IDEA to enable students to access and participate in special education, and because those of you on the “enrichment” end of the continuum will not be providing special education, provision of related services is not a necessity.
Note, however, that the more parsimonious your “continuity of education” plan is (the more it falls on the “enrichment” end of the continuum) the more likely you will need to offer some form of “compensatory” services to your students with disabilities once school resumes. Anything you can do now to mitigate the harmful effects of the closure on your students with disabilities will be helpful. Thus, even if you are not required to provide special education or related services right now to ensure access to optional enrichment activities, anything you can do will (a) help the child, (b) earn the gratitude of the child’s parents, and (c) put you all the further ahead when those chickens come home to roost later.