Rights and resources for families of students with disabilities during distance learning

In this time of disruption, fear, and distance learning, families are dealing with immense uncertainty about their childrens’ education. The district has compiled information and daily updates here, but for families, many critical questions are still unanswered. 

To try to help, GO will be sending out weekly emails with the aim of helping families wade through the latest information, translating what it all means, and providing resources. While we don’t have all the answers, we will share what we know to be true in the hopes that it helps you and your family. And we’ll occasionally share our own perspective on solutions that can support students’ academic needs as well as the general wellbeing of WCCUSD families and educators during this difficult time.

This week, we want to talk to families of students with disabilities…

More than 1 in 10 students in West Contra Costa have a disability that impacts how they learn. As the district prepares to transition to full distance learning to complete the school year on April 13, parents and caregivers of students with special needs are wondering what this will mean for their children and how the district will ensure their needs are met. Many students with disabilities also receive significant supports and therapies from various providers, and families are incredibly anxious about how the potential loss of these services could impact their child’s progress. 

Today, we want to elevate three of the biggest questions we’ve heard from families and share the available information: What are my child’s rights, how can I best advocate for my child, and what resources are available for me to support my child’s learning while accommodating their special needs?

What are my child’s rights? 

Special education is an area specifically defined and heavily regulated under the law. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides for each student’s right to a free and appropriate public education. At this time, the federal requirements under IDEA have not been waived, though the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has provided limited federal guidance and is currently considering waiving certain requirements under the law. DeVos has been given a deadline of April 30 to decide, and is expected to offer some flexibility for districts.

Until the federal government provides more clarity later this month, the California Department of Education (CDE) has said that districts must provide students with disabilities with equitable access to comparable educational opportunities to those received by the general student population. Such opportunities “… should be appropriately tailored to the individualized needs of a student, as determined through the IEP process to the extent feasible.”

If it sounds confusing, it is, but the most important thing to know is that your child is still entitled to accommodations and/or differentiated instruction. While services may need to be delivered differently to comply with social distancing requirements, the state is encouraging districts to consider alternative service delivery options or identifying appropriate locations where services can be safely provided. The state has also signaled that the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic mean it won’t be possible to provide all services in every child’s IEP. CDE has said individual IEP teams should decide whether or not a student will be entitled to additional services when schools reopen to compensate for those missed when schools were closed.

How can I best advocate for my child?

While the COVID-19 crisis is placing unbearable stress on caregivers and parents, we encourage you – as we always do – to remember your own power in this moment and advocate for your child. Also for yourself, as you are now asked to be both parent and educator. 

If you haven’t already, we recommend asking for a remote meeting with your child’s teacher and IEP team. Make a list of your questions and concerns, and remember that educators are also navigating uncharted waters. In cases where language is a barrier, you can ask for a district interpreter who could join the phone call or video-conference remotely. Some districts have addressed this challenge by using remote interpretation services such as Language Line, which has 240+ languages available.

For additional support, the Council for Exceptional Children is offering basic free memberships until May 31, providing access to a supportive online community (Code: CECED60).

What resources are available to support my child’s learning and accommodate for their special needs?

Instructional Resources: Supporting continued learning at home 

Informational Resources: Supporting families to advocate for your child’s rights

Mental Health Resources: Supporting the emotional wellbeing of children and families

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