Amy Houck Elco authors article in School Leader Magazine

Cooper Levenson Partner Amy Houck Elco recently authored an article for the official publication of the New Jersey School Boards Association, School Leader Magazine. Her article, entitled “Navigating Special Education Rights During COVID-19” discusses the distinct challenges that the pandemic school closures present for special education students. The article appeared in the publication’s Nov/Dec 2020 issue. Read the article below and through the link that follows.

Navigating Special Education Rights and Responsibilities During COVID-19

By Amy Houck Elco

The pandemic school closures present distinct challenges for special education students

Navigating Special Education Rights and Responsibilities

In August 2020, Gov. Murphy signed Executive Order 175 (EO 175), effectively reopening New Jersey school districts for full or part-time in-person instruction, if they meet certain health and safety stan­dards listed in “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” and the New Jersey Department of Educa­tion’s (NJDOE) Checklist for Reopening of Schools 2020-2021.

School districts are required to submit plans to the NJDOE ensuring compliance with items such as, maintaining six feet of distance between individuals in all settings to the greatest extent practicable, manda­tory use of face coverings for all staff, students, and visitors unless an exception applies, student and staff health screen­ings, adequate air ventilation, and student hand washing stations. School districts that are not able to, or become unable to satisfy the health and safety require­ments for in-person instruction detailed in EO 175 may provide full-time remote instruction to all students until the district is able to satisfy the health and safety requirements.

In addition, EO 175 also provides, consistent with the NJDOE’s Clarify­ing Expectations Regarding Full-Time Remote Learning Options for Families in 2020-2021, that districts resuming partial or full-time in-person instruction shall permit students to participate in remote learning on a full-time basis upon the request of a parent or guardian. The NJDOE, in its Clarification for Remote Learning, provides that families may request remote learning for any service or combination of services that would other­wise be delivered on an in-person or hybrid schedule, such as instruction, behavioral and support services, special education and related services. Also, a family may request that some services be delivered entirely remotely, while other services follow the in-person reopening plan.

It is also important to note that on April 1, 2020, the State Board of Edu­cation approved temporary regulations which provide that during an extended public-health related school closure, related services may be provided through telemedicine and telehealth or through electronic communications, which include virtual, remote, or other online platforms, as appropriate and as required by a stu­dent’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) to the greatest extent possible. This temporary regulation ensures that school districts provide students with disabilities the same educational opportunities as their nondisabled peers through electronic communications, virtual, remote, or other online platforms as appropriate. Allowing the use of electronic communications, virtual, remote, or other online platforms ensures students with disabilities are provided the services they are entitled to, as set forth by a student’s IEP, during the public health emergency. Therefore, related services such as physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling are now able to be provided remotely or in-person.

Read a downloadable version of the article HERE