Students in Pennsylvania’s public schools have started a highly unusual school year as some must attend online classes, others participate in a hybrid learning of digital and in-person, and still others attend traditional in-person instruction under restrictive guidelines.
The Wolf administration has issued guidelines, but no mandates. It is up to schools, on the local level, to determine how they will handle risk mitigation and fulfill educational needs while complying with education laws such as FAPE.
What Does FAPE Mean?
FAPE is an acronym for Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE is guaranteed under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
This education law ensures that all students in the United States have a right to a free education that meets their unique needs. Due process for students in public education includes the right to get an evaluation in their native language, to have an interpreter and translation services, and the right to challenge their placement and to challenge any denied educational services.
What Must Schools Supply under FAPE?
FAPE requires schools to provide special education and related services to help meet the unique educational needs of your child. Related services could include accommodations such as preferential seating for better visibility and focus, as well as provisions such as audiobooks, counseling, occupational therapy, etc.
These services will be listed in your child’s Individual Education Program, or IEP.
If you have questions or concerns about whether your student is receiving free appropriate public education or if your student has a sufficient IEP, contact us today to schedule a consultation. Our team of education lawyers – Gabriella H. Farhat, Jeffrey C. Murse, and Gerryanne P. Cauler – can help you navigate FAPE and education law to help you advocate for your child.
Lastly, FAPE ensures that your child is taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE), learning with peers whenever possible, in an environment of inclusion.
COVID and Special Education
The pandemic has added to the challenge of ensuring equitable education for every student. For online learning and hybrid learning, poverty can add to any impediments already faced by parents of a child with a developmental disability. Does he/she have access to a computer? Is there free wi-fi available?
The Education Law Center offers “An Equity Checklist for Schools” online as a guide, specifically referencing COVID-19 Compensatory Services (CCS).
CSS are services specified in your student’s IEP that are needed to resolve a student’s loss of skill or behavioral progress due to the pandemic quarantine and school closures.
Local education agencies (LEAs) must determine if your student needs CCS within the first few weeks of in-person instruction. Your student’s IEP should have been implemented immediately upon the start of the school year.
Student’s Rights & Health Risks
The U.S. Department of Education states that “school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.” In mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19, schools face the challenge of following health-related safety procedures while adhering to education laws regarding FAPE and meeting the requirements of Section 504.
While FAPE does require your child’s school to provide services that are “reasonably calculated” to help your child learn, it does not require your child’s school to provide the best public education.
The IEP team must make an individualized determination whether, and to what extent, compensatory services or future services are needed for your child, including accommodations needed to make up for any skills that may have been lost during the closure “within a reasonable timeframe.”
We Clarify Education Law
COVID-19 guidance is constantly changing and its implications on your child’s educational rights are complicated and interpretive.