On August 7, 2020, the Ohio Department of Education (“ODE”) released guidance regarding how to meet the needs of students who receive special education services. As with the Guidance ODE released in the spring, ODE reiterates the importance of district communication and collaboration with parents.
Regardless of where a student receives his/her special education and related services, this guidance explains that districts must provide students with the services identified in their Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) to the extent practicable without risking the health and safety of the students or staff. The exact nature of the services that will be provided to each student should be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Evaluation Team Reports
ODE explains that initial evaluation team reports (“ETR”) must be completed within the timelines outlined in O.A.C. 3301-51-06. Additionally, ODE explains that districts may complete evaluations and re-evaluations that do not require face-to-face assessments or observations if the student’s parent or legal guardian consents. To that effect, the district may choose to conduct a records review. In the event the district completes an ETR through a records review, this should be documented in the prior written notice.
This guidance confirms that districts may hold IEP or ETR meetings remotely using a virtual format or by telephone. Districts should document participation and may collect signatures via email attachment, standard mail, scanned signature, photograph, or any other electronic means. The manner in which signatures are collected should be documented in the prior written notice. ODE notes that districts may hold meetings face-to-face, but such meetings must be held in accordance with Ohio Department of Health guidelines.
Least Restrictive Environment
ODE confirms that a student’s least restrictive environment is determined by the student’s IEP team on an individual basis and is reflected in the IEP. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the various learning options, ODE recommends that IEP teams address what the student’s learning would look like in the different learning environments.
In order to determine a student’s least restrictive environment for the 2020-2021 school year, ODE states that IEP teams must consider the following:
- What is the district’s plan for instruction during the 2020-2021 school year?
- Depending on the type of instruction, what implications are there for the least restrictive environment?
- How will the student’s needs be met to support the student’s least restrictive environment through the district’s plan?
- Does the least restrictive environment specify what the individual student’s learning would look like in the event of a blended learning environment or fully remote learning environment?
- If a parent or guardian has opted to receive all instruction remotely, how will the IEP reflect the student’s unique or educational needs?
- If the family declines the IEP team’s proposed least restrictive environment, did the IEP team discuss alternative options? Does the district have documentation reflecting the refusal, including prior written notice and any other documentation?
Specially Designed Instruction
The Guidance from ODE also addresses how districts should provide students with specially designed instruction for this fall. In that regard, ODE explains that “[i]f the school is engaged in remote learning or blended learning, specially designed instruction must continue to be provided as written in the student’s IEP.” As such, IEP teams should address what the specialized needs are for students in the various learning environments and individualize the specially designed instruction to meet each student’s unique needs. Additionally, districts must consider how the specially designed instruction will be provided and documented and what types of support students will need to access the specially designed instruction.
Pursuant to the Guidance document, students with disabilities must continue to receive transportation as outlined in their IEPs. Specifically, districts must consider whether and to what extent students with disabilities require transportation in order to access FAPE.
As a result of this guidance, districts may need to reconvene IEP teams to address the special education and related services students will receive for the upcoming school year. School districts should consider contacting their legal counsel to discuss how to serve students with disabilities in the different learning environments.