Monday, April 06, 2020

5 Minutes on K-12 Online Learning with Ray Rose

Michael Barbour interviewed me for his 5 Minutes series on his Virtual School Meanderings Blog.
Watch the video here.

Catch all the videos, by clicking here.  Michael continues to add to the series.  And if you care about K-12 online learning you should be subscribed to Michael's Blog.  He posts almost daily, sometimes more than daily.

Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID-19 Schooling. Protecting the Civil Rights of Students with IEPs

It’s hard to know just what’s happening with schooling these days because the language in the press and elsewhere isn’t precise.  Just because a Governor has declared school closed, what does that mean?

 I have classified the different types of closures.  There’s the basic one I think everyone is familiar with: school is closed.  That normally is short term and for something like a weather event; ide storm, tornado, snow, hurricane, etc.  But some schools have created “Snow Days” where they ask teachers to prepare materials for students to do when there is a cancellation of classes because of weather.

 Now we have a situation also called school cancellation but what it really means in some states is that school buildings are closed – but there may or may not be some form of remote learning. 
Because education is a function of each state, what is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic can be very different.  Some states have basically cancelled school (all classes) for a time.  Others expect some form of remote learning to be taking place.  State education laws and legislative actions are a big reason for the differences.  Because of that, and the lack of advanced preparation for something as unexpected as this situation, there are lots of questions. 

The US Dept of Education has tried to provide guidance in particular for students with special needs.  But, I have heard from a number of very well educated colleagues who find the guidance unclear.   I’m going to attempt to clarify the situation with this post.  It is hard to be specific because of differences in state law, and because there is great variability in the needs of students with IEPs.  Every IEP should be tailored to serve the specific needs of the student.

What is happening for all the students in what I’ll call regular education (typical classrooms)?  If the students are on break – there’s no instruction happening, students aren’t required to do any educational activities – then there’s no requirement for schools to provide services for special needs students.
If a school district closes its schools and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then a school would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time. Once school resumes, the school must return to providing special education and related services to students with disabilities in accordance with the student’s IEP or, for students entitled to FAPE under Section 504, consistent with any plan developed to meet the requirements of Section 504.

UNLESS – if the student’s IEP specifies ongoing services that are necessary to protect the student’s mental or physical health, I argue that the school has a moral, ethical, and potentially legal obligation to continue provide those services to the extent possible.

If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§ 300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR § 104.33 (Section 504))

If there are instructional activities for the regular education students, then students with IEPs should be getting services that match.   Most students with IEPs are integrated into the pre-COVIS-19 regular classes for some if not all of the day.  Students with IEPs should be getting the same educational opportunities.

States where the expectation is that students will continue with some form of remote learning may have defined the instructional time requirement, and may have identified the type of documentation they need to provide to the state.  Most states have a defined school year, sometimes 180 days, sometimes converted the 180-day requirement into hours to give school districts more flexibility.

Depending on state law, it may be necessary for school districts to reach that required instructional time to get state funding.  States may provide some waiver of that requirement, but it may take state legislative action to accomplish that.   Whatever the expectation is for the regular education student, the same expectation would exist for students with IEPs unless there had been a previous reduction in instructional time in the student’s IEP. 

Here’s where it gets tricky for school districts serving students with IEPs.  The mode of delivery of service changes with remote instruction.  For the moment assume that the school is using ZOOM video conferencing, and other online delivery.  If the IEP didn’t already state that as one of the service delivery methods, ED recommends that there be a revision in the IEP to reflect the new instruction.  Of course, a school cannot make a change like that without having parental sign-off on the change.  ED is clear that the change in IEP does not require a face-to-face meeting, but does require there be an appropriate paper trail to support the change. 

There can be students who, in the traditional classroom had no significant difficulty with instruction and learning, but with the shift to this new remote instruction, are having difficulties.  Just as in pre-COVIS-19 education, when a student is having difficulties there’s an assessment to see if the student needs other supports, the same should happen with this new situation.  There’s hope that schools resume their traditional education practice, but using that as an excuse to avoid looking for ways to support students having difficulties in the new remote instruction environment is not acceptable.  
While the Federal legislation is steady and U.S. Dept of Ed guidance seems to be consistent, what’s happening in the schools seems to be still evolving, especially as it’s clear the social distancing will continue for at least another month. 

Here are links for guidance from the US Dept of Education:

OCR Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility

And a selection of news articles on the topic:

And a specific example of the evolving guidance: Mass students with IEPS must have remote lessons

Monday, March 23, 2020

OCR Speaks

I like it when I can get a direct statement from the US Dept of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on issues of accessibility and online education.  This is especially good information in light of the press for remote education in K-12 and higher education institutions.  And, this is what I've been saying for years.

Please share this widely.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Continuity of Education in Light of COVIS-19 Concerns

There's been discussion in both K-12 and higher education about what to do about the face-to-face instruction in light of ongoing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.  Given that academic institutions in other countries and in a few US communities have closed or have instituted "digital learning days" it's worth looking at the push for temporary online learning in light of quality online instruction and accessibility issues.

As I have pointed out in previous posts,  in the US, both higher education institutions and K-12 have the same obligations to ensure that all digital resources and learning situations are fully accessible.  I've recently seen a couple of higher ed institutions' continuity of education statements.  I like the statement that Yale has. 
Instructors should... review the information provided on the Student Accessibility Services website. ADA regulations apply to all courses, whether residential, online, or online temporarily in the case of a disruption to normal campus operations.
It does apply to both K-12 and higher education. I have found, especially in K-12 institutions, digital accessibility has focused on students' having a digital device, and if that device can be connected to the internet.  That may be the first step.  But, if once they have a device the content is still not designed to be accessible, it's like not having a device.

Institutions of higher education and K-12 education have a legal responsibility to ensure that all educational programs, whether residential, online, or online temporarily need to be accessible.

As K-12 schools are looking to create online learning opportunities they could benefit from applying the National Standards for Quality Online Learning.  These have been recently revised and are available for download without cost.  The standards are designed as a benchmark for the development and delivery of online learning.  Standards exist for Programs, Courses, and Teaching.  The standards address accessibility, so working to achieve the standards will also help in achieving accessibility.

Because at this point there's no good indication of how long school closures may last, it's better to think long-term and design online learning opportunities that do more than simply count as school days.  Design those online learning opportunities to ensure that students don't miss their education.