According to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is supposed to provide children like Bridget with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), just like her GenEd classmates. When the Government needed to close the school systems to protect our residents, it was with an abundance of caution but without thought on how to protect our most vulnerable student population. Instead the Department of Education (both State and Federal) went into protect us from special education parents mode.
When the shutdown happened we received a letter from the Director of Pupil Services that told us “when a School District is not providing educational services to the general population they are not required to provide special education services”. I searched and this is a language directly from the Department of Education (and was quickly revised and expanded upon as outrage grew).
This news was shocking for a lot of parents whose children have special education. Not to speak for the collective, but we were shocked. Not that there was not an immediate plan, but the inference that there would be no plan as long as GenEd continued to be restructured to distance learning. We did not expect our 1:1 special educator to be knocking on our door. But we did expect something different than what we received. Not a letter stating, we know this is unprecedented and difficult time period, we ask for your patience as we figure out how best to serve your child. They led with we don’t have to.
I believe had any special education teacher, therapist or ESP vetted that letter it would not have had the tone of cover-the-districts-ass but would have been one of empathy and teamwork. I know based on the response from some in Bridget’s team that it did not matter if they did not have to, they were the first to reach out and say what can we do until a plan is developed.
It has been a month since our schools have shut down and transitioned to “distance learning”. There should be plans already in place for our special educators, therapists and education support personnel to meet online with our students and run their programs. Most of us are in limbo with an ad hoc plan that gets changed more frequently than the girls change out of the pajamas. One week we get our special educator three times a week for a half hour session. The very next week, nope! Just two days a week and something different on that third day.
I thought this is it, I just have to deal with her IEP being extinguished. I am grateful for Bridget’s speech therapist, teacher and ESP for their efforts. They are trying but we had to ask for the ESP to meet with Bridget daily. She went from going to school every day, to no school at all for almost two weeks, to learning how to use a computer so she could access some of the education. We have been lucky to have a special education team that has been involved with Bridget for so long that they are invested in her success. My contention is that all districts should have had it set up for the teacher and ESPs to meet with special education students online as soon and as regularly as possible. It should not have been a parent’s responsibility to ask, they were already told (erroneously) that districts did not have to provide educational opportunities. Why would they ask for more when they felt they should be happy with the little they have been given?
If you are a Massachusetts parent I highly recommend you join the free weekly webinar that the Massachusetts Advocates for Children are hosting and visit their website for more information. The webinars are on Thursday evenings, at 8pm and are a half-hour long.
During one of those webinars I learned I was wrong, to not expect more from the school district. We were wrong, all of us, when we believed that first letter from our districts. Our children are supposed to be having their IEP serviced through a “remote learning plan“, it might not be the IEP we are used to, but there is supposed to be a plan. Every service provider is involved (you can see a sample plan here) and I recommend every special education parent become more familiar with your children’s rights in this time.
Please note, I would never ask a therapist, teacher, ESP or doctor/nurse work during this unprecedented pandemic. However something is happening to families whose child has special education needs and we have to talk about it.