On June 29, 2020, the Ohio Department of Education issued “COVID-19 Guidance: Data Reporting for Students with Disabilities FAQ.” The guidance addresses EMIS reporting for noncompliance events that occurred due to the COVID-19 school-building closure during the 2019-2020 school year. The bottom line from the guidance is summarized as follows:
- No timelines have been waived due to the school-building closure (this includes initial evaluations, re-evaluations, initial IEPs, IEP annual reviews and Part C to Part B transitions).
- There are no new EMIS noncompliance codes to use when reporting that an event did not take place in a timely fashion due to the school-building closure.
- It is unclear what ODE/OEC will do going forward with respect to monitoring and/or corrective action based on noncompliance due to the school-building closure. Further guidance will be issued regarding this, but no timeframe was provided.
Notably, the guidance speaks to the circumstances under which a reevaluation can be waived. While the guidance states that this option is “reserved for students who are accepting a diploma or who are so medically fragile that completing a reevaluation would not be possible,” the Operating Standards allow for the waiver of a reevaluation if the parent and the school district agree that a reevaluation is unnecessary. See O.A.C. 3301-51-06(D)(2)(b). A key take-away from this guidance for school districts is that, in the event the district has ETRs and/or IEPs that are noncompliant due to the school-building closure, every effort should be made to complete these documents prior to the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
On June 22, 2020, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued a Question and Answer document regarding the dispute resolution process for students receiving services under Part B of the IDEA during the current COVID-19 environment. The Q & A document is summarized as follows:
- Dispute resolution procedures, including state complaints, due process complaints and mediations, will continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Timelines for dispute resolution, including the 60-day state complaint timeline and timelines related to due process complaints (i.e., resolution period, timeline for issuance of a decision, etc.) can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
- Meetings needed for dispute resolution, including mediation and due process hearings, can occur virtually (e.g., via Zoom, Google Meets, etc.).
In Ohio, mediations have been occurring remotely even prior to the school closure order being issued in March. ODE has provided training for impartial hearing officers to conduct remote hearings; however, the individual hearing officers have the discretion to hold the hearing remotely or to schedule an in-person hearing if social distancing can be maintained.
Additionally, on June 26, 2020, OSEP also issued a Q & A document regarding flexibility in the implementation of the IDEA’s Part B fiscal requirements in the current COVID-19 environment. The Q & A document provides guidance to local education agencies on maintenance of effort. Specifically, the document states that flexibility exists for meeting maintenance of effort requirements and provides guidance regarding this issue. Districts that have specific questions or circumstances that could make MOE problematic should refer to the information in the guidance applicable to their specific circumstance.