General Considerations for Distance Learning during these unprecedented times
Designs for Learning will support our schools as they develop their Distance Learning plans. Special Education is a unique service that can’t be easily replicated in a virtual or solely paper-pencil method. Due Process and compliance issues complicate the development of plans. To that end, Designs for Learning Special Education Directors, School Psychologists and contractors have the following guidance for teams to consider. Our guidance is in conjunction with the MDE Q&A for due process and special education services issued on 3/17/2020.
Designs for Learning is operating under the premise that Distance Learning will commence on March 30 and will be in effect for at least 4 weeks, if not until the end of the year. This premise is based on the rationale no social contact will flatten the curve and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
- Due Process will continue during Distance Learning (to the extent possible): IEP meetings can be held virtually, so they should be held in accordance with the Annual Due date. The IEP meeting must be in accordance to Rule: Parent, General Ed Teacher, Special Ed Teacher, Administrative Designee and related services and language interpreters (as applicable). It is incumbent upon the Special Ed Teacher to coordinate the conference call or virtual meeting. NOTE: Due process is “suspended” during this 8-day non-school day time frame for developing our Distance Learning Plans. No IEP or ER sharing meetings will be held during this 8-day period.
- All due process timelines are pushed back 8 days, beginning with March 18: The eight-day planning period the Governor has decreed are considered non-school days with no instructional practices to be provided during this time frame. While not explicitly stated in the guidance from MDE, Minnesota Rule is clear on school day counts. Any evaluation (reevaluation or initial) that is due between March 18 and March 27 will automatically have 8 school days added to the timeline. Additionally, IEP meetings that were scheduled between March 18 and March 27 must be held as quickly as possible when school resumes on March 30. The 8 day rule does not necessarily apply to IEP meetings, but does serve as a general guideline that any meeting scheduled during March 18 and March 27 should be held within 8 school days of March 30; in other words, any IEP meeting that should have been held during March 18 and March 27 should be held no later than April 9.
- Not all evaluations can be completed in a Distance Learning Plan: MDE has acknowledged that not all assessments can be completed in a virtual manner. Given the premise stated above that Distance Learning is being implemented to reduce social contact, 1:1 testing is not permissible. Therefore, if we cannot get the evaluation completed due to unavailability of the student, we would complete as soon as possible following the resumption of school commencing in brick and mortar buildings. See also pages 11 and 12 of MDE’s “School Closure Guidance for School Districts and Charter Schools” dated 3/17/20.
Special Education Services: Note: there should be no instruction or due process during the 8-day planning period.
- Distance Learning may look different from student to student: Case managers are the best determiners for what will work for their student. Designs for Learning position is for Special Education support for our students to be what will be most effective. For many of our students who have access to technology, virtual real-time instruction might be the most effective method to ensure FAPE. For other students, packet work may be the best method and for others, a combination of the two.
Designs for Learning has developed a list of online resources for teachers. See the accompanying documents.
- You need to plan for regular (daily) interaction with your students: If you are using Google Classroom, Zoom, Skype, Teams or some other virtual meeting platform, you can have multiple students sign-in and work with them, similar to how you run groups in your classroom. If you are using packets (paper/pencil) you need to plan for regular phone contact with students. If you are using an on-line program, phone might be the best method of monitoring and responding to questions.
- Distance Learning does not include personal contact: During the Distance Learning time period, there are NO provisions for 1:1 or small group instruction. You can’t meet with a student in a public place or at school to test or to provide instruction. D/APE teachers, OT, and S/LP’s can’t meet with students in school or in a public place. Distance Learning is just that: learning from a distance.
- The majority of IEP’s DO NOT need to be amended: Designs for Learning is recommending that we do not amend IEP’s except for our most needy students (Fed 3). We are to replicate services as best we can. For example, if a student’s plan has “Reading, 5x/wk for 30 minutes” then we need to plan activities that would be roughly 30 minutes in length. Because we will provide the same amount of support, there is not a need to amend the IEP (even though the delivery will be through distance learning).
For our Fed 3 or higher need students, it might not be practical or feasible to provide 3 or more hours of service. It is up to the case manager, in consultation with other team members, to make a determination of the critical areas requiring direct specialized instruction. The IEP would need to be amended. According to MDE guidance, we do not need to hold a meeting to amend an IEP. Designs for Learning’s recommendation is to hold a phone conference IEP to involve the parent in the discussion. A PWN would be prepared and sent to parent with the revised IEP.
There will be more questions, see your Special Education Director.