Posted and up-to-date on 8/26/2020 - Cross posted on KidsLegal.org
What do I need to know?
There is still a lot of uncertainty around what school will look like in the Fall. What will happen at your child’s school will depend on where you live in Maine.
The Maine Department of Education created a framework for returning to classroom instruction. It is meant to help school districts decide how to safely reopen schools. Each school district is encouraged to use Maine CDC and DHHS data, in addition to other information, when deciding whether and how to open schools. The CDC and DHHS have categorized each County in Maine as Red, Yellow, or Green to show the county’s risk of COVID-19 spread.
- Red means high risk - it is not safe for in-person classes;
- Yellow means there is an elevated risk - a hybrid (some days in a classroom, some days at home) model of instruction may be used; and
- Green means that the risk is low enough that classes can be held in person, as long as certain safety rules are followed.
Every county is required to follow specific policies for safely reopening schools. These include:
- Doing symptom screening at home before coming to school;
- Using physical distancing and other things like barriers;
- Using masks/face coverings;
- Regular hand washing and sanitizing; and
- A home isolation policy for sick staff members and students.
Read more about the DOE’s framework.
What about learning for students with IEPs and/or 504 plans?
While this is a confusing time, the law is clear that kids with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate public education. Schools are still required to ensure that students with IEPs or 504 plans access the same learning opportunities as their non-disabled peers. That said, some of the services or programming written into the IEP or 504 plan may not be delivered in the exact same way given COVID-19 restrictions.
What about IEP meetings and evaluations?
A parent can request an IEP meeting at any time. School districts are required to respond within a reasonable amount of time. A parent can request that an IEP meeting be held remotely by telephone or videoconference.
There are a few situations when a parent may want to request an evaluation at this time, including:
- Your child is currently a special education student, and you have new concerns that may have come up with remote learning that you feel warrant new testing/information.
- Your child is currently a special education student, and you would like the school to update old evaluations (note that evaluations must be done at a minimum every three years).
- Your child is not a current special education student, but you would like your child evaluated for special education services.
In all of these cases, it is best to put this request in writing. Include the reasons you are asking for the evaluation. If you have concerns about the school’s response to this request, feel free to contact us. In the meantime, you may also consider trying to get an outside evaluation through a Mainecare provider or a private insurance carrier.
What if my child is struggling to do their schoolwork at home?
If your child is struggling, you can request a meeting with their special education case manager or the school 504 plan coordinator. You can talk with them about your concerns, and what they can do to address them.
You can also request an official IEP meeting or 504 meeting. You can use this meeting to talk about accommodations to help your child access their curriculum/ learning.
Put all your requests, concerns, or complaints to the school in writing. Confirm that someone at the school has gotten your request, and keep a copy for your own records.
While your child is learning from home it is a good idea to document any challenges with remote learning you may see. You should also document what is working well. You can give this important information to the IEP team.
How do I make sure my child can access the services on their IEP?
You can ask for a meeting and say for the record which services you want from your child’s IEP.
- Ask about virtual learning opportunities to replace any direct instruction that was given in writing, by email, and verbally at a meeting.
- Record the school’s answer.
- If the school has failed to provide services, please reach out to us so we can help evaluate your options. Your child has a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”) and the school may have violated that right if they are not implementing your child’s IEP.
- If your child is on a remote or hybrid schedule but struggles with remote learning, you can ask for part of the IEP services to be done in-person. For example, you may ask for in-person tutoring. Making a request does not guarantee that the school will agree, but it is important to make the request and keep a record!
Can I still request records for my child?
Yes, you can still request records from the school and/or your district’s special education department. Make the request in writing and follow-up with them in a few days to make sure they got your request.
Can I still file for a due process hearing while schools are closed?
Yes, you can still file a due process hearing request or a state complaint. Right now, any hearings will happen remotely.
What can I do if I want to help my child or grandchild get the best possible education while we are home?
This is difficult - but you can do it! Here are some steps you can take:
- Review their IEP to get a better understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses
- Ask for an IEP meeting to talk about how you can best engage your child in learning, and what other help and resources exist.
- Reach out to your child’s teachers for more help and resources
- Use library websites to access books, audiobooks, interactive learning, and other resources online from home.
- Keep a journal of struggles you see while your child is learning at home, and what has been working well.
- Keep a record of what services/instruction your child has gotten during this time.
State and Federal COVID-19 Guidance
The state and federal Department of Education (DOE) issued this information, but it may change as the situation evolves. We will do our best to update this information as we learn more.
Resources & Up-to-Date Information
U.S. DOE Webinar on Online Education & Website Accessibility: