Christina PeerMarch 30, 2020 

On March 27, 2020, the Ohio Department of Education issued updated guidance clarifying its previously issued guidance document of March 18, 2020 entitled “Considerations for Students with Disabilities during Ohio’s Ordered School-Building Closure.” The updated guidance document attempts to clarify some of the concerns raised by stakeholders in an attempt to interpret the March 18 guidance document.

Some key points contained in the updated guidance document are:

  • Schools should prioritize taking all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of students and discourage activity that could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Schools should work to provide education to all students through alternative means.
  • Recognition that schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. However, schools should “continue to try to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) while balancing the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities during this national health emergency.”
  • When using alternative delivery models, districts “should make a good faith effort within available capabilities” to determine how FAPE will be provided.
  • Emphasis on the need for schools and parents to “work together collaboratively” to find ways to educate students with disabilities.

The updated guidance document also clarified, to some extent, a question regarding evaluations that were underway, but not complete, at the time of the ordered school-building closure. The updated guidance indicates that if a reevaluation was underway at the time school buildings closed and that reevaluation cannot be completed at this time due to the order, school districts should “continue to provide services in accordance with the information provided” in the guidance. Districts should interpret this to mean that students should continue to receive IEP services, to the extent feasible, as noted above, and consistent with the terms of such services that were in place prior to the ordered school-building closure.

Notably, no additional guidance was provided regarding initial evaluations.

The updated guidance also states that if a district shifts instruction to an alternative mode for all students due to the school-building closure, “it is not required to convene the IEP team or amend the IEP for the sole purpose of the school-building closure.” However, “if a student with a disability cannot access the alternative service delivery model being offered to general education students, the district should consult with the student’s parents to determine the needs of the student and identify the most appropriate means for meeting those needs during the ordered school-building closure.”  The guidance goes on to note that if an IEP team meeting is necessary or requested, the meeting should be held virtually or by phone.

It remains unclear what, if any, relief will be granted to school districts from the IDEA’s procedural and substantive requirements. To date, there is also no guidance regarding what standards will be applied to claims for compensatory education that parents might raise after school operations return to normal. It is imperative that individuals, school districts and professional organizations advocate for the type of relief schools will need given the impact of the pandemic on the ability of educators to deliver instruction and related services. Please share with your elected representatives (federal and state) the efforts your school district is making to serve students with disabilities and the need for a commonsense application of the IDEA’s requirements given the unprecedented school-building closures.

If you have any questions about the updated guidance, please reach out. We are happy to help.

Christina Peer is chair of the Education Law group at Walter | Haverfield. She can be reached at cpeer@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2918.