The expression “the journey is the destination” describes my story pretty well.
I went from being a child with learning disabilities to a learning specialist who understands children’s strengths and weaknesses and helps them learn strategies to accomplish academic success.
In a world where Covid-19 has changed almost every aspect of daily life, I completely understand the types of challenges learning-disabled children like myself and parents like you are experiencing.
This is an uncertain time, and I want to help you understand the current situation in terms of your child’s education and the role your child’s school, and you, the parent, play, in ensuring your child’s academic success.
A Little Background Information
It’s always helpful to be informed about your child’s education, so you can leverage the accommodations and rights available to you and your child to your advantage.
In the last 50 years, there has been much progress in helping students with disabilities thrive in school and alongside their peers.
In 1986, the Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) Act was passed and guaranteed educational opportunities for children of ages 3-21.
Over time, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Individualized Education Program (IEP) took form, which supports children who learn differently from their peers.
The term IEP is also used to refer to a written plan drawn up by a team, which includes you, the parent, to outline all the specific types of help your child will get to keep up and stay ahead in school.
An IEP is created if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability – it’s a specific plan designed to meet individual students’ unique needs.
If your child has a 504 Plan, it means that if your child has a learning disability recognized by the law, they are entitled to receive accommodations from their schools.
These accommodations support your child’s specific needs to adjust to the classroom without changing the class curriculum.
The Plan itself is named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, under which the law protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
Essentially, your LD child has the legal right to fair opportunities in education, which includes the right to access specific accommodations to help level the playing field for them in school.
But in the Covid-19 reality, how has access to these plans and accommodations changed, and what can you do about this?
Getting Mandated Services for Your Child During Remote Learning
The federal government has approved remote IEP meetings during Covid-19, through accessible means like telephone and videoconferencing.
While your children and members of the IEP team, which includes you, don’t have to meet in person, your LD child may still require support from their schools to cope with the new reality of distance learning.
This might include forms of distance learning like schoolwork packets, telephone or video calls, online classes, or some other learning away from school.
Any services might need to be adapted as your child still has the right to them.
And while this is great on paper, the truth is that schools are facing an entirely new reality about how to keep your child’s academic needs on track.
And this new reality of remote learning has created pressures and priorities for the schools’ resources.
With the finite amount of resources that schools have access to, there’s now a greater need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), classroom protection devices, hiring janitorial staff, other faculty and staff hires, and of course upgrading technology and training for remote learning.
Pre-Covid-19, you would have the right to ask for a hearing where a judge or hearing officer will order that the accommodations stated in your child’s IEP be delivered if your child isn’t receiving them.
Now, the lack of funding can become a deciding factor in how schools can implement a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) to your LD child.
So, with the limitations created by Covid-19, what can you do to help your child get mandated services during remote learning?
You need to redefine your role as a member of your child’s IEP team.
As a member of the team and as the person in your child’s direct physical proximity, you play an integral role in helping your LD child accomplishing academic success in remote learning.
How to Help Your Child Get Mandated Services During Remote Learning
1. Keep a Diary of Your Observations
By keeping a diary of your child’s engagement in remote learning, you’re keeping first-hand accounts of your child’s experience which you can provide the IEP Team and school.
This helps them evaluate the types of challenges your child is facing regularly and helps them work out solutions and plans to help your child overcome their virtual learning struggles.
In a Covid-19 world, schools are doing their best to help children continue with their education while trying to keep all partners, which includes students, parents and staff, safe.
In this new uncharted territory, they’re figuring out the best way forward like the rest of us.
By journaling your child’s experiences during remote learning without IEP and 504 accommodations, you create a paper trail of your requests for help.
Pat Howey, an educational advocate who has helped families with disabilities since 1985, says,
“You’ll find a written report is very powerful. It will become part of your child’s permanent educational record. The school can never say this did not happen because you documented it. A Written Opinion is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because school staff are making things up as they go along. Some of these things — like requiring a parent to sign a consent form before agreeing to provide an eligible child with a FAPE — are not consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”
Your reports have to be factual, rather than emotional.
If you observe that your child is unable to sit in front of the screen for longer than 15 minutes without losing focus, write that down.
It’s more helpful for the Team to formulate meaningful strategies, compared to saying things like “My child is incapable of sitting at a screen all day and be expected to remain engaged.”
2. Maintain Open Communication with Your Child’s School
Schools can only do so much in a Covid-19 world through remote services.
As parents, you will need partner with your child’s school to secure the implementation of as many identifiable services and accommodations as written in 504 Plans and IEPs.
Some services, such as counseling, are easy to continue online.
Other services, like occupational and physical therapy, are more difficult.
You need to establish an open line of communication between home and school to develop mutually beneficial, two-way relations which can help ensure your child has access to as many accommodations as possible during remote learning.
Remember that you are your child’s best advocate.
Within the Committee of Special Education (CSE) meetings, you are equal partners in creating and accepting 504 Plans and IEPs.
Remember that your voice matters, and that how you present your objectives and goals to the Team is as important, if not more important, than what you are saying.
By partnering with your child’s school, they understand that you view them as the professionals who want to help your child, and that you, as the parent, want these objectives and goals to assist your children in and beyond the classroom.
3. Stay Informed and Work Closely with Your Child
As your child’s best advocate, you have to empower yourself with the knowledge of how best to secure your child’s mandated services during remote learning.
You can use your child’s 504 Plans and IEPs as a roadmap to help you create, explore, and implement the compensatory strategies, accommodations and interventions included in these plans.
As the person closest to your child physically and emotionally during these times, you can work directly with them while partnering with their schools and keeping them updated on what’s working and what isn’t.
Again, maintaining a parental diary of your observations during this time can be super helpful in keeping an official record of your child’s successes and struggles, and keep the IEP Team in a constant feedback loop.
Remember – securing mandated services for your child during remote learning requires you to be your child’s best advocate.
Understand your child’s profile and keep a paper trail.
Maintain home-school communication to partner together with your child’s teachers.
Understand your rights under the federal law.
FAPE and IDEA mandate that your child has specific rights, so remain calm and carry on.
You are equal members of the CSE team and your voice matters.
As a learning expert and educational consultant, my advice to you is this –
Remain patient while maintaining an open line of communication with your school.
Educators and administrators entered the field of education to help your child feel and be successful.
By partnering with their schools, documenting your observations and formal requests to support service department heads in your districts, you are taking necessary and helpful steps in ensuring your child gets mandated services during remote learning.
Each of these steps taken by you helps your child engage in the learning process and embrace the opportunity to reach their full potential.
If you are confused and unsure where to start in guiding your child with simple but effective academic success strategies, you might find the answers you’re looking for in my course, The ABCs of Academic Success.
Upon signing up, you get a 15-minute free consultation session with me, and can ask me whatever you’d like about how to help your child get mandated services during remote learning, or about how to help your LD child accomplish academic success overall!
Dana Stahl grew up with a learning disability. With the right help, she resolved it and her superpower is helping your LD child succeed in school, at home or during remote learning.
As an Educational Consultant and Learning Specialist for over 30 years, Dana created an easy-to-follow, step-by-step online course called The ABCs of Academic Success so you can help your child thrive academically! Check it out and get a free 15 minute consultation with Dana too.