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Special Education During COVID-19


This resource, developed by ASERT, provides information about Special Education laws and how they apply to school shutdowns and home schooling as a result of COVID-19.

Special Education During COVID-19

What is a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)?

  • Both the Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guarantee all children the right to a FAPE.
  • Appropriate can be tricky to define in these unprecedented times. Both laws allow local school districts a degree of independence in delivering a FAPE. Under normal circumstances the Department of Education states that FAPE will include that:
    • Educational services are created to meet individual instructional needs of every student, as adequately as for a nondisabled student.
    • Students receiving special education, must be educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate.
    • Plans are created to make sure that students are placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE), appropriately classified, and are periodically reevaluated.
    • Procedural Safeguards are available to parents/caregivers to ensure they receive required notices, are able to review their child’s records, and can question
      identification, evaluation, and placement choices a school makes.
  • Parents/Caregivers must be given the opportunity to participate with school personnel in developing a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that offer accommodations and processes to protect the right to a FAPE for students receiving special education services.

Impact of Coronavirus

  • As learning is moving online, federal law still requires that students receiving special education services have an equal opportunity to participate in all school activities. However, the delivery of a FAPE will assuredly be impacted for all students as some components of the law cannot be guaranteed through an online environment.
  • This means that all online learning needs to be accessible to all students.
  • Families and schools should work together to ensure the proper infrastructure is available to provide an appropriate online education for students receiving special education services.
  • Districts may have to work with Intermediate Units and Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PATTAN) to acquire assistive technology that would enable accessibility for students receiving special education services.

Response from U.S. Department of Education

  • The U.S. Department of Education has put out two key resources that educators and families should familiarize themselves with. The first is a questions and answers document and the other is a supplemental fact sheet.
  • The supplemental fact sheet states in bold print: “To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),† Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.”

What Does This Mean for Families and Educators?

  • All children remain entitled to a FAPE, but given the circumstances surrounding Coronavirus the delivery of these services may be different than if schools were open.
  • This is an unpredictable time for school administration, educators, families, and students receiving special education, and it is likely that there will be initial challenges as schools move to remote education alternatives.
  • The federal government has clarified that online learning will not impact compliance with IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act.
  • No specific methods for educators to adapt online lesson plans for students receiving special education services have been offered by the federal government.
  • Educators will have to spend additional time modifying lessons for accessible online teaching.
  • Regular communication between general and special education teachers to strategize accessible lesson plans can aid this process.
  • Related services that were once delivered in person may not be possible under social/physical distancing. Services such as speech, physical or occupational therapy may be provided through use of video conferencing technologies.
  • If you feel your child’s education is impacted by school closures, call your special education supervisor and proactively talk about what steps can be taken to ensure FAPE during this time of COVID-19.
  • Work together as a team early on to ensure there are open lines of communication about what is educationally needed for your child and what the team will do to ensure a positive
    educational experience during this time.
  • IEP and 504 teams should document any issues their child has accessing their instruction and services.
  • Communicate with your team and work with your school district to meet the individual needs of your child. If these services cannot be delivered remotely, speak to your district about alternative ways your child’s education can be provided to recoup any skills that may be lost during this absence from instruction or services.

When Will Schools Reopen?

  • The worldwide pandemic is evolving each day.
  • There is no set date for when schools will reopen. This will continue to be reassessed by the state and federal government.


COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel.(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus

Free Appropriate Public Education under Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (2010, August). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/edlite-FAPE504.html#:~:text=The%20Section%20504%20regulation%20requires,severity%20of%20the%20person’s%20disability.

Map: Coronavirus and School Closures. (2020, April 06). Retrieved April 07, 2020, from https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

Mitchell, C. (2020, March 23). How Will Schools Provide Special Education During the Coronavirus Crisis? Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/19/are-we-going-to-get-ourselves-in.html

Nadworny, E., & Kamenetz, A. (2020, March 23). Education Dept. Says Disability Laws Shouldn’t Get In The Way Of Online Learning. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-liveupdates/2020/03/23/820138079/education-dept-says-disability-lawsshouldnt-get-in-the-way-of-online-learning

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus 2019 Disease Outbreak. (2020, March). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qacovid-19-03-12-2020.pdf

Rago, G. (2020, March 20). For Kids With Autism, School Shutdown Poses Even Bigger Quandary. Retrieved from https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2020/03/20/for-kids-autism-school-shutdown-posesquandary/28014/

Provision of Special Education, Early Intervention, and 504 Services During the Coronavirus 2019 Outbreak. (2020, March 16). Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/advocacy/advocacy-news/state/state-news/provision-school-based-coronavirus

Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities. (2020, March 21). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/faq/rr/policyguidance/Supple%20Fact%20Sheet%203.21.20%20FINAL.pdf

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This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.