Schools are denying special education services to students with IEPs who opt for independent study. Worse, some are forcing parents to sign away all special education rights–placing parents in a no-win situation.
For health and safety reasons, many parents of children with disabilities remain reluctant to restart in-person schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, California passed AB 130, a law that allowed funding (and lots of it!) for distance learning only for students enrolled in an Independent Studies program. Under this new law, students with disabilities can’t participate in independent study unless it’s in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
For the 2021-22 school year, school districts and county offices of education must offer independent studies to any student who needs remote learning, including students whose health would be at risk by returning to school in-person. (Charter schools are exempt from this requirement). But parents are reporting that school districts refuse to offer independent studies in the IEP, will offer distance learning without any services or accommodations, or will provide independent study only if parents give up important legal protections. Some school districts are taking the drastic step of expelling students who do not attend in person classes, even when they have documented health or safety reasons for their absence. As a result, many children are home without any education or services. Here are 5 things every parent should know about independent studies:
- Independent Study is not the same as “Home Hospital”. Some parents of children with IEPs are agreeing to “home hospital” as way to obtain distance learning. However, home hospital is not special education. Home hospital is for students with a temporary disability who can’t attend regular classes, such as a student who contracts mono or who breaks an ankle. The purpose of home hospital is simply to keep the child from falling behind while they recover. Therefore, instruction is extremely limited, usually 4-5 hours per week with no services or accommodations. These measly services are almost never appropriate for a child with an IEP and parents should not settle for them.
- Know what you’re giving up. Sure, it’s ok to sign an IEP or settlement agreement if you understand exactly what you are agreeing to. It’s even ok to give up certain rights in order to get other benefits. But it’s not ok when parents are “tricked” into signing away important rights, services, and educational benefits. Many districts have promised to provide independent studies only if parents sign vague or improper IEPs, give up all rights in an Individual Service Plan (ISP) or sign one-sided settlement agreements. As a result, parents are unknowingly surrendering their child’s right to a FAPE both now and far beyond the current school year. ADAMS ESQ is one of many experienced special education law firms that will review your IEP or settlement agreement free of charge. In many cases, we can assist in negotiating an independent study placement without having to file a case. It may take a little longer, but you will have the peace of mind of knowing what you are agreeing to.
- Don’t wait. Some school districts are “dis-enrolling” or expelling students with special needs due to non-attendance. Many children have been home with no educational or related services and are losing the progress that they worked so hard to achieve. Worse, California has very tough truancy laws that can result in a $2000 fine, 1-year imprisonment in a county jail, or both. Don’t wait another day. Disability Rights California has a sample letter that you can send to your school district to get independent studies.
- Take control of your child’s education. With continued teacher, provider and staff shortages, it may be a while before things get back to normal. For now, you must take charge of your child’s education. Consider private or parochial schools, charter schools or small learning pods. They aren’t perfect, but they may meet the health and safety requirements that large schools lack. Keep track of all tuition and expenses as you have a two-year window in which to seek reimbursement from your school district. Don’t forget to provide a 10-day notice before enrolling in any alternative education program.
- You are not alone. There are over 800,000 children in California with IEPs. Many have special needs that can make in-school attendance during a pandemic unsafe or even deadly. In response to a recent civil rights complaint by some of these parents, on October 5, 2021, California’s Department of Education issued new Frequently Asked Questions clarifying that students with IEPs must continue to receive appropriate services in Independent Studies. Review these FAQs before you agree to place your child in independent study.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis and school closures, ADAMS ESQ’s social justice circle is funding academic screenings at no charge to qualifying children with special education needs in California and Nevada. For more information on this program, contact us today at: email@example.com or reach us toll-free at: 1-800-785-6713. You also may want to read and repost our past COVID19-related blogs: “Hey! Where’s my ESY?”, “Forget About the Toilet Paper—Grab that IEP!”, “IEP Alerts for Parents” , “Special Education Teaching is Really Hard!”, “The ‘FREE’ in FAPE”, Doubling-Down on Special Education and Look Before You Leap! 5 Things to Know Before Leaving Your Child at School During a Pandemic.