What does “Back to School” mean for Special Education Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

By: Laila Latif

[Update 7.22.2020] Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) have just decided on a 100% virtual start to the school year. 

[7.20.2020] As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and schools debate how to approach the upcoming school year, there are many unanswered questions, including, what will happen to the education of students with special needs?

For most Northern Virginia public school students, it seems that they have a choice between a hybrid model and a wholly distanced model of learning. Most counties have already decided on the hybrid option of two in-person school days and distanced learning for the three remaining days. While this hybrid may make it more difficult for the average student to learn, it can make learning exceedingly tricky for special education students.

Already having to adapt and hit the ground running with sudden school closures, many parents of students with disabilities are struggling, and have been for months. Before the pandemic forced schools to close, approximately 14% of students enrolled in US public schools were receiving special education services (pbs.org). The parents of these children are doing the best they can to keep their children on track in the new, at-home environment, but the primary concern of many is regression. It is highly recommended that, in these times, parents of students with special needs document what tasks their children could complete before the closures, and what tasks they have been able to complete during these months at home (pbs.org).

This documentation will ensure that teachers have the most significant understanding of the student’s regression and abilities when school eventually resumes. However, there has been little to nothing announced about the school plans for special needs children. Richmond Public Schools have decided on an entirely virtual start to the school year, with little information about how that will affect the special needs students. However, Fairfax County has said that they are still “exploring how it can give ‘increased in-person or synchronous instruction’ to special education students and English language learners” (washingtonpost.com). In Loudoun County, there has been a discussion of ‘satellite classrooms’ for teachers to arrange small-group instruction sessions (loudountimes.com). However, there has yet to be a decision.

Parents of children with special needs are finding many roadblocks in educating their children at home. Some children require entire teams for them to be able to learn sufficiently, others require physical therapy in school, and there is also the distracting home environment to consider. These parents are awaiting a decision, or even merely information, about what to expect in the upcoming school year.

For updates about your county’s decisions, click here. In the meantime, as we await this news, the most productive thing that parents of special needs children can do is continue to document everything about their children’s abilities, so their schools are informed and prepared when students, eventually, do return.

Contact WhitbeckBennett by calling 800-516-3964 or email clientservices@wblaws.com to discuss how our team of special education law attorneys can help you and your family.

WhitbeckBennett provides social-distancing in-person consultations, private consultations by video conference at our office, or telephone/video consultations anywhere you may be located. We also currently offer a Virtual Consultation Room.

Related: Family Law;  Special Education