Good news for special ed families impacted by COVID

As we all know, kids in special education were the victims of blatant denials of services and education throughout the pandemic. In California, a state law required school districts to set up a distance learning plan for each student in special ed, but from what I've seen, most school districts just sent out a one-size-fits-all form letter to every family saying, in essence "here's your plan: a couple hours a week of zoom if you are lucky." Kids were denied PT, speech, OT, and classroom instruction, regardless of what was required in the IEP. Kids who require one-on-one aides got no aides. School districts saved tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Parents had to take off time or even quit jobs to become their child's teacher and one-on-one aide. 

But now I know of at least two decisions that have imposed substantial penalties on districts for some of these practices. Two decisions by the Office of Administrative Hearings have found that districts denied children's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by failing to provide one-on-one aides at home during the pandemic when the IEP required a one-on-one. In one case, OAH ordered the district to start providing the aide at home; in another case OAH required the district to provide nearly a full year of private schooling in compensation for the education the district denied the student.

Also, in a recent case, OAH found that those blanket, one-size-fits-all distance learning plans violate the IDEA too. 

All of this is of course too little too late. But now is the time for districts, parents, and legislatures to prepare for how all of this will work during the next pandemic. We all hope it won't happen, but if it does we will have no excuse not to be ready with plans to truly educate our special ed kids without denying their rights. And in the meantime, it looks like families may be able to get some justice from the state for districts' blatant denials of their children's rights.

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