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  • Writer's pictureJessica Lenhart

Back to School 2020: 3 Things You Need to Know About IEPs

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

Back to School 2020: 3 Things You Need to Know About IEPs

1. Students with Disabilities are still entitled to an appropriate program. Individualized combinations of remote and in-person instruction should be considered.

So many things are uncertain as school resumes this fall, but we know one thing for sure: students with disabilities remain entitled to a “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Both the United States Department of Education (USDOE) and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) have made clear that the requirements of the IDEA have not been waived.

“… the Secretary is not recommending Congress pass any additional waiver authority concerning the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reiterating that learning must continue for all students during the COVID-19 national emergency.” Secretary DeVos Reiterates Learning Must Continue for All Students, Declines to Seek Congressional Waivers to FAPE, LRE Requirements of IDEA

“Consistent with guidance from the United States Department of Education, districts must continue to meet their obligations to students with disabilities to the greatest extent possible.” The Road Back

Given these mandates, students with disabilities must receive an individualized level of instruction that enables them to make meaningful progress to the greatest extent possible. If an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is not being implemented, then the IEP team should be meeting to discuss the challenges and solutions.

The current NJ DOE guidance, “School Reopening Frequently Asked Questions,” also makes clear that students with disabilities who opt for remote instruction may still request in-person related services. So, we know that combinations of in-person and remote instruction can be requested and should be considered if needed in order for a student to receive an appropriate program. The guidance states:

Can parents choose to have instruction at home, but only send their child to school for therapy (OT/PT/SLP)? Under the NJDOE’s fulltime remote learning guidance, a family/guardian may submit a request for fulltime remote learning which may include any service or combination of services that would otherwise be delivered on an in-person or hybrid schedule, such as instruction, behavioral and support services, special education, and related services. A family/guardian may request that some services be delivered entirely remotely, while other services follow the same schedule they otherwise would according to the district’s reopening plan.”

2. IEPs should be updated and appropriate when school resumes. Parents may need additional training and support to implement remote instruction.

So much has happened since schools closed in March. Many IEPs were not fully updated this spring when the “annual” IEP review and revision should have occurred.

In a “normal” school year it is usually a good idea for an IEP team to connect when school resumes. Obviously, it is even more important this year, though teachers and administrators may be busier than ever. So, as school resumes: parents, notify the IEP team of your current questions, new concerns and the student’s new needs. Schools, let parents know about any changes to plans for IEP implementation of the student’s educational program.

As per The Road Back plan, if parents need extra support to implement any portion of home/remote instruction, parent training or additional assistance should be provided.

“Training and technical assistance – schools and districts should provide training and/or technical assistance to teachers, parents and guardians who are not experienced in remote learning methods, including use of technology. Support should be made available for family members who are limited English proficient or have a disability.” The Road Back.

3. IEP teams must consider whether students with disabilities need compensatory services once school resumes.

As the current New Jersey guidance in the state’s The Road Back plan explains:

“IEP teams should review student data/student progress to determine whether critical skills were lost during the period in which remote instruction was being provided to students and determine the need for additional services to address learning loss.”

“IEP teams should consider the impact of missed services on student progress towards meeting IEP goals and objectives, and determine if additional or compensatory services are needed to address regression and recoupment of skills within a reasonable length of time.”

You can read more about the concept of COVID compensatory services in one of our prior blogs What are COVID-19 Compensatory Services?

Although the state has yet to provide any specific timelines or forms (other states have), New Jersey has made clear that IEP teams must consider and address any services missed during school closures. As the guidance requires, when school resumes, IEP teams should also conduct updated assessments on students’ current levels of functioning and check for any regression. Parent input and documentation should be considered as part of this process. IEP teams must then decide whether a student needs compensatory services, or may determine that increased levels of supports and related services are warranted moving forward, to remediate and prevent further regression. It goes without saying that parents must be considered co-equal members of the IEP team in this decision-making process.

The AdvoKids team is here to help parents and schools with developing appropriate IEPs during these unprecedented times. Contact us today for a free consultation. We welcome your comments, questions or concerns about the information above. Contact me directly at


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This material is for educational purposes only; it does not provide legal advice. Please be advised that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and Advo-Kids or this author. This article should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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