Parent Advocacy Materials

Teen oncology patient with mother COVID-19 has suspended, at least temporarily, in-person educational supports for most students with disabilities in the region. We know that this is a stressful time to be a student, and it is also a stressful time to be a parent and to advocate for your child who receives special education supports. Team members from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have worked to compile some resources and advocacy guidelines to help you understand how COVID-19 may impact your child’s special education programming.

Special Education and COVID-19

Pennsylvania-Specific Information

  • On March 12, 2020 the federal Department of Education released guidance about IDEA and COVID-19. Read about the guidance.
  • Further guidance issued on 3/21 can be found here.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has an FAQ around Special Education and COVID-19 which can be found here.
  • The Education Law Center posted about the rights of students with disabilities during school closure.

New Jersey-Specific Information

Delaware-Specific Information

The Delaware Department of Education has developed extensive guidance around COVID-19 and Special Education Supports. 

Key takeaways

As information evolves, we will continue to update this resource. Some key takeaways for advocacy:

  • If schools are offering educational services to their students, such as through online distance learning, delivery of paper packets, or other means, they must make an effort to provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE) to their students with IEPs and 504 Plans.
  • Teams should be making a great effort to continue with scheduled meetings and to comply by legally mandated timelines.
  • Services may need to be adjusted due to COVID-19 and its impact on school, but schools need to make an effort to deliver the services outlined in a child’s IEP.
  • Given significant changes in service level or type, or a large gap in services, IEP teams should consider compensatory education. Simply put, compensatory education involves make-up services. If your child’s services during COVID-19 look significantly different than what they look like in the school building, ask the IEP team to discuss a compensatory education plan.
  • IEP teams should be problem solving how to provide services similar to those outlined in the IEP and should be communicating actively with parents and caregivers.

Advice for caregivers

  • If you do not have a copy of your child’s current special education documents, now is a good time to get them so you can be sure you know what services your child’s team agreed to.
    • To request copies of your child’s most recent evaluation report and IEP or most recent 504 Service Plan, email your child’s IEP case manager or school counselor.
    • Save these documents somewhere safe. Consider beginning a paper file for your child, saving all important documents and communication about your child’s services.
  • During this time, as at any time, you have a right to request an IEP team meeting. The team must come together within 10 days at your request.
  • If your child’s IEP team met last in March, April, May, or June of 2019, make sure the team will schedule a teleconference or video conference meeting. School must still make all team members available, or waive attendance with your consent.
  • Scheduled meetings should continue as scheduled via an alternate means, such as telecommunication, unless the team has contacted you about a change to schedule.
  • If your child was in the process of being evaluated or re-evaluated, contact the school to see how they plan to move forward with classifying or re-classifying your child.
  • If your child receives therapies, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or vision therapy, contact your child’s IEP case manager and the therapist(s) by email to see how and when services will be delivered. Many schools will be able to offer these services through video conferencing.
  • If your child uses assistive technology (AT) to help them access their schoolwork, ask if your child’s school will allow you to borrow the materials they have been using, and if that is not possible, request alternatives.
  • Your child’s school may issue new documents for this unprecedented time. These might include a contingency IEP or 504 Service Plan, or an updated placement document (NOREP) outline how services will change. Remember that you have a right to disagree with a proposal by the school team. Consider asking the school team to make it clear that this is a contingency plan, and that a reduction in services is due to COVID-19, not a reduction in your child’s needs.

Preparing for a School Team Meeting

A school team meeting, whether it is a formal IEP or Section 504 Plan Meeting or an informal conference with your child’s educational team, can be valuable when planning for your child’s return to school.

At this time, meetings may look a little different than you’re used to, as they are generally taking place through phone or video conference. However you meet with your child’s school team, it’s important to prepare before a meeting. Here are some tips:

  1. Request copies of any documents, such as a proposed 504 Plan or Draft IEP, before the meeting. It is hard to focus on what team members are saying and to read documents at the same time.
  2. Ask who will be coming to the meeting beforehand and whether they will stay for the duration of the meeting. If there are people you would like to be at the meeting, even if they aren’t a required member of your child’s team, request that the person coordinating the meeting invite them.
  3. Consider the extent to which your child will participate in the meeting. Many teens benefit from hearing their strengths and needs discussed and in giving insight into their services. Especially if transition to adult life will be discussed, your child may be able to provide key information no one else on the team can.
  4. Before the meeting, write down a list of questions or concerns you’d like to get through. It can be hard to deal with the amount of information shared and discussed in a school planning or special education meeting, so it is good to have a checklist to make sure all of your concerns are addressed.
  5. If you need more time after a meeting to think about a proposal, that is ok! Make sure you understand how much time you have to consider signing a document or plan.
  6. Make sure the team informs you about how and when the plan will be implemented in school.
  7. If a proposed plan has elements that require follow-up, ask how and when follow-up meetings will be scheduled.
  8. As the meeting is ending, ask who should be your “point person” for follow-up questions by email or phone.

COVID-19 Specific Tips

  1. If you know your child’s IEP or 504 Plan is “due” for a review, email the coordinator to schedule a meeting.
  2. If services are changed due to the pandemic, consider asking how and when the plan will change when in-person school reconvenes.
  3. If your child’s school offers related services such as speech therapy, ask how and when those services will be delivered during this time; for example, through video visits.
  4. If school offers a phone conference but you think you and your child will be able to be more attentive and understood by by video conference, ask if it is possible to hold the meeting by video.

General Special Education Resources

It’s important as the parent/caregiver of a child or young adult with an IEP or 504 Service Plan that you know your rights and your child’s rights. During this time, it’s important to make sure you have what you need to advocate for your child. Special Education can be difficult to understand. Luckily, there are resources that can help.

Are there comprehensive guides to help me understand the special education process in my state?

  • Pennsylvania – The Right to Special Education in Pennsylvania: A Guide for Parents and Advocates (Education Law Center) 
  • New Jersey - The Right to Special Education in New Jersey: A Guide for Advocates (Education Law Center) 

How can I better understand the components that make up an IEP in my region?

States provide sample IEP forms with explanations of what each section of the IEP is for and what kinds of information should be contained in each section. It’s helpful to review these annotated IEPs before attending your child’s annual meeting so that you can be sure to ensure the plan being put in place is going to meet your child’s needs. 

If my child is not school-aged, are there ways to get supports if I suspect my child has developmental delays?

Yes. Typically, districts and counties separate referrals for babies and young children suspected of having developmental delays into two “streams:” birth-2 and 3-5.

In Pennsylvania, you can find out more about referrals in your county and child’s age range by calling CONNECT Helpline at 1-800-692-7288. The CONNECT Helpline will tell you the procedures in your county for referring children for Early Intervention evaluations. This number will give you information for all children from birth to age 5.

In Philadelphia County, for a child ages birth to 2 call the City of Philadelphia’s Early Intervention Intake Department at 215.685.4646. For a child ages 3-5 contact ELWYN’s Early Intervention Intake Department at 215-222-8054.

In New Jersey, if your child has not yet turned 3, you can call the Early Intervention Regional System Point of Entry toll free number at 1-888-653-4463 and follow the menu directions based on the county in which your family lives to be connected with your county’s Early Intervention Coordinator.

If your child is between the ages of 3 and 5 they will be serviced by your local school district’s Project Child Find. Typically, you will make a referral by writing a letter of concern addressed to the head of your district’s Child Study Team, whose information will be on the district’s web site. You can also call Project Child Find’s toll-free number, 1-800-322-8174, to find out more about referrals where you live. 

An important thing to keep in mind is that although it is always good to discuss your developmental concerns with your child’s pediatrician and other medical providers, no referral is needed to call Early Intervention and evaluations must be provided at no cost to you.

Are there resources to support my disabled child’s transition to the workforce?

In Pennsylvania, the first step is to contact your local Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to learn about case management.

After the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014, adolescents and young adults under age 21 who are enrolled in secondary or post-secondary education hav the right to:

  1. Job exploration counseling
  2. Work-based learning experiences, which may include in-school, after school or community-based opportunities;
  3. Counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs at institutions of higher education
  4. Workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living; and
  5. Instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer mentoring.

OVR must provide in-person services to meet these provisions. These services include: 

  • Attending individualized education program (IEP) meetings for students with disabilities when invited;
  • Working with local workforce development boards, One-Stop centers and employers to develop work opportunities for students with disabilities;
  • Working with schools to coordinate and guarantee the provision of PETS;
  • Attending person-centered planning meetings for individuals receiving services under Title 19 of Social Security Act, when invited.

If you need additional support around getting help from OVR, you can contact the Pennsylvania Client Assistance Program at (215) 557-7112 or toll-free at (888) 745-2357. You can find more information by visiting their website.

Often, counties’ chapters of the ARC of Pennsylvania will have resources for transition services. Links to every county’s ARC are located here.

In New Jersey, contact the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation either by filling out an online referral or by calling or visiting your county’s office, listed here. The online referral form can be found here.

The New Jersey Education Law Center has compiled a fact sheet about transition planning.

The ARC of New Jersey’s Project Hire is a supported employment program that connects people with disabilities to integrated employment opportunities. Learn more about the program.

For more support in New Jersey around vocational rehabilitation, contact:

New Jersey’s Client Assistance Program

  • 210 South Broad Street, 3rd flr.
  • Trenton, New Jersey 08608
  • 1-609-292-9742 (Voice) or
  • 1-800-922-7233 (NJ only)
  • 1-609-633-7106 (TTY)

Additional Local Resources

For more local special education resources, contact these local agencies:

Pennsylvania

Education Law Center - Philadelphia

  • The Philadelphia Building
  • 1315 Walnut Street, 4th Floor
  • Philadelphia, PA 19107-4717
  • Phone: 215-238-6970
  • Fax: 215-772-3125

Education Law Center - Pittsburgh

  • 429 Fourth Avenue, Suite 702
  • Pittsburgh, PA 15219
  • Phone: 412-258-2120
  • Fax: 412-535-8225

Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership Center (PEAL) Pittsburgh

  • 2325 East Carson Street, Suite 100A
  • Pittsburgh, PA 15203
  • 866-950-1040 Toll Free
  • 412-281-4404

Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership Center (PEAL) Philadelphia

  • 520 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd. Suite 602
  • Philadelphia, PA 19123
  • 215-567-6143
  • 866-950-1040 Toll Free
  • https://pealcenter.org/

Hispanos Unidos Para Ninos Exceptionales (Philadelphia HUNE, Inc.)

Mission Empower – Erie

New Jersey

Education Law Center

  • 60 Park Place, Suite 300
  • Newark, NJ 07102
  • Phone: 973-624-1815
  • Fax: 973-624-7339
  • Email: elc@edlawcenter.org

SPAN Parent Advocacy Network

  • 35 Halsey Street, 4th Floor
  • Newark, NJ  07102
  • phone: (973) 642-8100
  • fax: (973) 642-8080
  • toll-free in NJ: (800) 654-SPAN (7726)
  • info@spanadvocacy.org

Additional Educational Considerations in Light of COVID-19

COVID-19 and Graduation

Adolescents and young adults planning for high school graduations and their caregivers may be experiencing an additional level of stress at this time.

  • Pennsylvania has issued guidance around Class of 2020 graduation, which can be found here.
  • Information about changes to NJ testing requirements, including alternative portfolio assessments, can be found here.

Key Takeaways

  • Current seniors in good academic standing should be able to graduate at the end of the 2019/2020 school year as planned.
  • No student should be “unjustly restricted” from completing their graduation requirements.
  • If schools have a graduation requirement such as a “senior project,” they need to consider waiving the requirement or provide an alternate assignment that is able to be completed remotely.
  • If a student is in a CTE (Career and Technical Education) program, the school can still graduate them without passing the certification exam in their trade, if their CTE instructor believes they would have had a high likelihood of passing.
  • If students are dual enrolled in college courses, they should receive high school credit if they pass the college course after switching to remote higher education learning.
  • In New Jersey, assessment requirements have been waived. Any student who was expected to graduate in the class of 2020 but, as of March 18, 2020, had not yet passed the necessary assessments, will graduate on time with their class.
  • Portfolio assignments used in NJ as a replacement for exams have also been waived.

Advice for Caregivers

  • Contact your child’s IEP Case Manager to determine whether your child remains “on track” to graduate, and how the specific steps they may need to take to fulfill changing requirements
  • Ensure your child is completing any senior projects that have been adapted but are still required.
  • Ask your child’s school whether they are doing any online celebrations to mark this important milestone in your child’s education.
  • In New Jersey, ensure that you know what exams your child passed and which will need to be waived. If your child submitted a portfolio project as an alternative to an assessment, ask your child’s guidance counselor or the school’s testing coordinator what will happen with that portfolio requirement.


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