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Do Kids With an IEP Have to Go Back to In-Person School This Fall?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

Question: Our local public school is going back to in-person instruction this fall. My child has an IEP, and I don’t want to send my child back because I’m worried about the coronavirus. What are my options?

Answer:

It’s perfectly normal to be worried about coronavirus and your child being indoors with teachers and other students. You’re not the only family that’s concerned.

The first thing to know is that all kids must attend some type of schooling. It’s the law in every state. So, you must register your child either for public school, private school, or a homeschooling program.

Any of these options can be done virtually. There are many online private schools, and homeschooling is becoming more common. Students in private school or in a homeschool program may still be able to get public school services. This is typically done through a service plan. In some school districts, kids can even participate in extracurricular activities.

However, there are drawbacks. Private school can be expensive, and homeschooling is a big-time commitment. Also, your child probably wouldn’t get all the IEP services they’d get in public school.

Another option is virtual public school. In several states, there are online schools that any child can attend. For example, online public schools in Pennsylvania are tuition-free. And just like any other public school, they must provide special education to students. One benefit of online public school is that there will be more continuity with your child’s IEP.

It’s a little trickier if you want to continue at your local public school. You may worry that they’ll insist your child attend in person. But you can ask the school if it will offer a virtual learning option this fall. Some schools will be offering this.

Because of COVID-19, many traditional public schools are planning to stagger when students attend in person. A school can only fit so many kids in the building at once when practicing social distancing. Your school might be OK with letting your child continue learning from home. You could even ask that the school pay for online schooling, which is often inexpensive.

As you reach out to the school, use the IEP (or 504 plan) process. Call an IEP team meeting. Then make a reasonable case for why the school should allow your child to continue virtual learning while still receiving special education. Point out anything—like work completion or skill improvement—that’s gone well for your child while learning from home.

Tying your request to your child’s needs can help you make your case. For example, if your child has a compromised immune system, learning from home might be best.

You’ll have an even stronger argument if you refer to a specific disability in your child’s IEP. Let’s say your child gets counseling for anxiety. If returning to school would increase that anxiety, then continued virtual learning seems reasonable.

Keep in mind that a lot of this is still up in the air. COVID-19 is a new, unprecedented challenge for schools. There aren’t clear answers yet on what schools need to do as they return to in-person instruction. No matter what you decide to do, keep talking with the school and making clear what your child’s needs are.

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