The Connecticut State Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education (BSE), recently issued the following guidance and related documents:

  1. A memorandum titled Continued Educational Opportunities and Special Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic — Update #1 (dated April 24, 2020) (the “April 24th Update”);
  2. Model templates (Parent Communication Record, Student Continued Education Opportunity Plan, and Service Record) to be used in connection with continued learning opportunities during COVID-19 school closures; and
  3. Guidance for Children Turning Three During the COVID-19 Health Emergency (dated April 23, 2020).

The April 24th Updated BSE Memorandum

The April 24th Update builds on the BSE’s guidance provided on March 24, 2020 and provides additional guidance on holding PPTs in light of the extension of the Governor’s school closure order.  At the outset, the BSE clarifies that a district policy or practice resulting in cancellation of all PPT meetings during this extended school closure period is not consistent with state or federal guidance.

PPT Meetings Generally

The Update builds on previous guidance in explaining that “[t]he decision whether to convene a PPT meeting during this time should be an individual, student-centered decision” which considers parent input as well as the following key factors:

  • Purpose of the PPT Meeting (e.g. Does the proposed purpose of the meeting require the PPT to convene? Does the PPT have all the necessary information required to develop or revise an IEP? Is revision necessary at this moment? Can the purpose be achieved by amendment?)
  • Meaningful Participation for District Staff and Parents (e.g. Does every member of the team have access to complete and accurate information to inform decision making? Can information be securely provided to parents in advance of the meeting?)
  • Privacy and Confidentiality (e.g. Can the meeting be convened in a manner that guarantees privacy and confidentiality? Do school staff and families have a space that is quiet and distraction free? Given the practical barriers of being at home, can the team adhere to an appropriate length of time for the meeting?)

As a practical matter, the April 24th Update reiterates that districts should work closely with parents and acknowledges that mutual agreements to extend timelines or postpone PPT meetings can be reached and should be documented.  In addition, agreements to amend a student’s IEP without convening a PPT may be used where appropriate, however amendments are not to be used in lieu of annual or three-year reevaluation PPT meetings. The BSE Guidance promotes flexibility and ingenuity in encouraging districts to consider whether there is an alternative way to meet the purpose or intent of the meeting, without convening a PPT meeting.  Districts are reminded that continued educational opportunities are not required to be addressed in IEPs.  While it may be appropriate for a PPT to discuss a student’s performance during this time, parents and districts have flexibility to use other means of conferring outside of the PPT process.

Annual Reviews

The April 24th Update provides clarifying guidance for those cases where, after careful review of the factors listed above, there is agreement to convene a PPT meeting to conduct an annual review.  Specifically, the Update makes clear that any revisions to the IEP should be written for implementation during normal school operation in school buildings.  Special education and related service start/end dates should be documented in the IEP consistent with district practices during normal operation (e.g. within 15 days of the PPT meeting date or on the first day of the next school year).  If a start date falls within the COVID-19 school closure period, services should be provided to the greatest extent possible and the Meeting Summary should note that the meeting was held telephonically/virtually during this time.

The BSE provided the following suggested language for Prior Written Notice Actions Proposed:  This IEP has been developed during the time of school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IEP has been developed for implementation within a regular school building and is based on the currently available information and will be reviewed within a reasonable period of time once the student is back in the school building and the team has an opportunity to collect information regarding the student’s educational functioning. The district will implement the IEP to the greatest extent possible during the school closure.

Where the purpose of the annual review is impeded by team member availability (absent staff excusal consistent with the IDEA), technology issues or access to data, the April 24th Update indicates that the PPT meeting should be scheduled and held as soon as it is feasible to do so, recognizing that the one-year deadline may have already passed. In that case, the student’s current IEP would remain in effect and districts are encouraged to hold parent conferences for purposes of sharing available information.

Triennial Reviews

The April 24th Update makes clear that triennial reviews can be convened, however districts should only be holding such meetings if “complete evaluation information is available, including reports from independent evaluators, if applicable.”  Parents and districts may agree to postpone the triennial review and continue the student’s current eligibility and IEP if there is a written agreement indicating when the PPT will convene (e.g., within a reasonable amount of time after the student is back in the school building). Where a district and a parent agree that a triennial review is not necessary to determine continued eligibility, they may enter into a written agreement to that effect, the date of which would be used as the triennial review PPT meeting date.

Initial Evaluations

The BSE strongly recommends that districts convene PPT meetings to review initial evaluations completed prior to school closure for the purpose of determining eligibility and developing an IEP where appropriate.  However, the BSE cautions that eligibility determinations should not be made with incomplete information.  Thus, the PPT must look at the available information and determine whether it can move forward without additional evaluation, understanding that “conducting a comprehensive evaluation during school closure is most likely not possible…”  The BSE encourages districts and families to come to mutual agreement as to a reasonable and practical timeline for completing evaluations and notes that districts may consider providing additional temporary supports during the school closure period.

Developmental Delay

The April 24th Update clarifies that districts may change a student’s primary disability before their 6th birthday, if sufficient information is available.  Otherwise, the student’s current IEP and disability category of Developmental Delay will remain in effect until the PPT can reconvene and collect sufficient information to make its determination.

Extended School Year

With regard to ESY, the Update clearly states that the ESY process is unchanged and is separate and distinct from any determination regarding compensatory services.  Mutual agreement as to ESY may be the subject of an IEP amendment.  The BSE indicates that it will issue further guidance on this topic.

Model Templates for Use by Districts During Period of School Closure (currently May 20, 2020):

Consistent with its emphasis on the importance of school to home communication and the provision of continued educational opportunities during the period of school closure, on April 24, 2020, the BSE provide three model templates for use by districts.  The model templates may be used as tools to assist districts in documenting their efforts to communicate with parents during this time; to document continuing learning opportunities for students identified for special education; and to record service delivery during this time.

The templates are only to be used during this time period.  The BSE recommends that districts which have already developed and are utilizing their own recording documents, should review them in comparison to these templates.  The three templates are:

  1. Parent/Guardian Communication Record: This template is to document both communication and attempted communication with Parents/Guardians regarding the Student’s learning plan.
  2. Service Record: This template is to be completed by each individual service provider as a record of services provided.
  3. Student Continued Education Opportunity Plan: The Guidance is clear that this plan does not replace the student’s IEP, but is based upon the Student’s IEP. It is for the purpose of documenting the district’s effort to implement the student’s current IEP to the greatest extent possible during the unique circumstance of the COVID-19 school closure.

In addition to providing these three templates, the BSE continues to recommend that the following points be reiterated to parents/guardians:

  • During this unprecedented period of school closure due to COVID-19, your child is entitled to receive supports and services within your child’s IEP to the greatest extent possible under the circumstances and in light of the primary necessity of the health, safety and welfare of students and educators.
  • All in-person instruction and in-person evaluations are postponed until further notice due to current public health mandates.
  • During this period of school closure, all students are being provided continued educational opportunities and your child has the right to have access to those opportunities with accommodations and modifications to the greatest extent possible.
  • As a parent/guardian, we seek your input and collaboration in your child’s continuing educational opportunity.
  • In recognition of the current health crisis, district personnel schedules will be flexible when possible and districts request that families make staff aware of their own scheduling limitations.

Guidance Regarding Transition from Birth to Three:

Working in partnership, the Governor’s office and the Office of Early Childhood have implemented orders to allow for children who turn three during the COVID-19 health emergency to continue to receive services through their Birth to Three providers.  Thus, on April 23, 2020, the Bureau of Special Education (“BSE”) issued Guidance for Children Turning Three during the COVID-19 Health Emergency.  The expansion of early intervention services provided by Birth to Three providers pertains only to children who have or will turn three on or after March 16, 2020, through the end of the period of school closure.  The Guidance clarifies that for children who turn three during this period, and for whom eligibility for IDEA Part B services has not yet been able to be determined because a comprehensive evaluation cannot be completed due to the health emergency, the child’s intervention services will continue to be implemented by Birth to Three providers.  The role of the LEA in those circumstances will be to continue to maintain regular contact with the family and to document those contacts.  The Guidance is clear that as soon as possible upon the normal resumption of school operations, the LEA must complete the comprehensive evaluation and determine eligibility for transitioning children, and, if eligible, develop and implement the IEP.

If an LEA has somehow been able to complete a comprehensive evaluation of a child who turns three on or after March 16, 2020, a transition PPT should be convened and, if the student is eligible, an IEP should be developed and implemented to the greatest extent possible through the learning opportunities that the LEA is providing to its student population.  In these circumstances, a parent may choose not to have the IEP implemented until school is back in session.  Additionally, in these circumstances, an LEA may choose to contract with a Birth to Three provider to provide the IEP services for purposes of continuity during this period.

The Guidance and model templates issued by the BSE builds on previous guidance and provides school districts with direction during this unprecedented time. We continue to advise districts to be mindful that this advice is provided in a time of rapidly changing circumstances.  Please continue to monitor for updates concerning COVID-19.  You may subscribe to receive automatic updates, or you may visit our COVID-19 Resource Center, where we have gathered all of the guidance we have issued so far as well as state and federal guidance under the heading “For Schools.” If you have specific questions about this guidance or about the provision of special education and related services, please contact Andy Bellach, Alyce Alfano, or Julia Wilde.