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Special Education Resource Hub: What Families & Students Need to Know this Year

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Who to reach out to for help

  1. How can I advocate for services and supports for me and my child at their school?
  2. Who do I reach out to if I believe my child’s needs have changed or if their learning or skills have regressed?
  3. Where do I go if my child and I are not getting the support we need from my school?
  4. How can I get a copy of my child's school or special education records?

Your child’s rights

  1. My child has a diagnosed disability. What support should I expect from their school?
  2. Can my child continue with distance learning for the 2021-22 school year??
  3. If my child must learn from home for part or all of the 2021-22 school year, how will my school help them?
  4. I am considering homeschooling my child. Can I receive special education supports?

What to expect this school year

  1. What support can I expect from my child’s school in the 2021-22 school year?
  2. I am concerned my child may have lost learning progress last school year during distance learning. What can I expect my school to do to help my child catch up?
  3. Where can I find information on school plans to assess interrupted instruction and to accelerate learning?
  4. Where can I find more information on medical exemptions to in-person learning?

Supporting your child and family this school year

  1. How can I learn about my child’s progress?
  2. What can my family do to manage stress and wellness during this time?

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Who to reach out to for help

1. How can I advocate for services and supports for me and my child at their school?

 
The DC school where your child is enrolled is the first point of contact for you to advocate for your child. If you have concerns, you should start by sharing them with your child’s DC school. You can contact your child’s teacher, special education coordinator or other school officials.

You can talk about this over the phone, email or video. Here are sample resources and letters that may be helpful.

Several organizations in DC can help you advocate. They can also talk to you about next steps if you are having trouble working with your school. These organizations are:

 

2. Who do I reach out to if I believe my child’s needs have changed or if their learning or skills have regressed?

If you have concerns about your child’s needs, talk to their teacher or special education coordinator to request an IEP meeting for review of their special education services. You can prepare for a conversation with your child’s school by:
  • Writing down your thoughts about your child’s learning
  • Keeping a home log of your child’s services

A review by your child’s IEP team may result in the need for a “reevaluation” of your child’s needs. A reevaluation is a formal process to check in on your child’s academic performance and needs to see if they would benefit from different special education or services, based on a redetermination of the child’s disability classification. A reevaluation is required every three years, but you can also request it at any time.

OSSE’s Office of Dispute Resolution or State Complaints Office are the next places to go. The Office of Dispute Resolution Parent’s Guide has more information on next steps.

3. Where do I go if my child and I are not getting the support we need from my school?

If you try and are not able to come to an agreement with your school about special education issues, you have other options. If your child attends a DCPS school, you can contact the DCPS Office of Integrity to ask for support first. Otherwise, OSSE’s Office of Dispute Resolution or State Complaints Office are the first places to go for these next steps:
  • Facilitated IEP Meeting - an IEP team meeting led by a neutral person. This is likely the first step you should consider. It gives you a chance to solve problems quickly among the people who know your child best.
  • Mediation - a conversation with the school led by a neutral third person. The goal is for you and the school to come to an agreement. This is often faster than due process.
  • Due Process Hearing - both you and the school share their respective point of view through witnesses and relevant documents presented to a neutral hearing officer. The hearing officer makes the decision. This can be appealed to court.
  • State Complaint - you file a written complaint to OSSE and an investigation takes place to see if the law has been broken.

The Office of Dispute Resolution Parent’s Guide has more information.

4. How can I get a copy of my child's school or special education records?

You can request a copy of your child’s records from their school. This includes special education records.
  • If your child attends a school that is part of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) (or attended a DCPS school that is now closed), request records from DCPS.
  • If your child attends a DC public charter school, request records from DC public charter schools.
  • If your child attended a DC public charter school that is now closed, call (202) 328-2660 or email [email protected].
  • If your child attends a nonpublic special education school, you should request records from the public DC school that referred your child. Use the categories above to select which option applies to you.

If you need more information or have trouble with the above, you can learn more or visit OSSE’s website on Accessing Student Records.

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Your child's rights

5. My child has a diagnosed disability. What support should I expect from their school?

Your school will give your child a specially designed education at no cost to you that meets your child’s unique needs. This will include:

  • Your child will receive specially designed instruction. Depending on their needs, they may also qualify for services like speech therapy or counseling.
  • A team made up of teachers and others, including you the parent, decides what services and support the student gets.
  • The plan for providing this education must be written down in an individualized education program (IEP).
  • Your school will provide you with reports or updates on your child’s progress throughout the year. You can also discuss any concerns you have.
  • You as a parent may be able to receive training as part of your child’s IEP to help you understand and assist with your child’s special needs.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, guarantees this right to a “free and appropriate public education” (also known as FAPE) for children with disabilities. This right applies whether your child is enrolled in a DCPS school or a DC public charter school, or attending a nonpublic special education school.
 
The IDEA also guarantees many other rights, known as “procedural safeguards,” to ensure that your child receives FAPE. OSSE’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards has more detailed descriptions of these rights.
 
If you have questions, contact your child’s teacher or special education coordinator.
 

6. Can my child continue with distance learning for the 2021-22 school year?

Due to the critical benefits of in-person learning and the robust health and safety protocols in place in our schools to support the wellbeing of students, staff and families, distance learning in the 2021-22 school year will only be available to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with a documented physical or mental health condition that requires distance learning due to COVID-19. Students with a health condition that requires distance learning must submit a COVID-19 Medical Consent and Certification for Distance Learning, completed by the parent or guardian and licensed physician or nurse practitioner.
 
For more information on medical exemptions, please see OSSE’s COVID-19 Resources for Students and Families.
 
 
Your school must continue providing special education no matter the circumstances, including if your child has received permission to learn from home due to a health condition, or in the instance that your child’s school temporarily closes in response to a public health concern while continuing to attend school virtually.  
 
If your school building must temporarily close or your child’s doctor says your child should stay home this year, your child’s individualized education program (IEP) team will help.
Individual home instruction can be delivered in many ways, below are some of several options your child’s IEP team will consider. This can include things like:
  • Telephone calls
  • Homework packets
  • Internet-based lessons 

Your child’s IEP team will work with you on planning for your child to learn at home. This will include getting the special education required by your child's IEP that can be delivered through a distance learning model, while balancing the health and safety needs of your family. This may mean that some, but not all, of your child’s IEP services will be delivered while your child is learning at home. This may also mean that IEP services may look different than they have before. For example, your child may receive only a portion of their IEP-required specialized instruction hours, based on how many hours of virtual classroom time your child is attending, or your child may receive speech and language services alone with the therapist instead of in a group with their peers. You should discuss with your child’s school how these services will be provided during this school year.

Remember that home instruction as part of an IEP is not the same as homeschooling. Students receiving home instruction are still enrolled at their DC school. Homeschooled students do not get any special education or services from DC schools.

8. I am considering homeschooling my child. Can I receive special education supports?

No, special education services are only available to students enrolled in a DC public school.
 
Homeschooling is not the same as distance learning through a DC public school. As long as your child is enrolled in a public school in DC, they can receive special education services.      

If you decide to homeschool your child and withdraw your child from public school, you are still entitled to request that your child be evaluated for special education services at any time. If your child is eligible for special education, you will receive information on what special education services your child would receive if you choose to enroll them in public school. Such requests must be directed to DCPS. Please visit DCPS’ website on pre-K students and K-12 students for additional information. 

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What to expect this school year

9. What support can I expect from my child’s school in the 2021-22 school year?

Your school has been hard at work planning for this school year. Below are key things to keep in mind about what you and your child can expect from your school. If you have any questions, contact your school.
 
1. Your school should communicate with you about plans to assess interrupted instruction and to accelerate learning. Your school has been developing a plan called a “Continuous Education Plan.” This plan should be shared directly with you. It will also be on your school network’s website and on OSSE’s website, once finalized. This plan will explain, among other things, how your school will:
  • Ensure a safe reopening of school buildings;
  • Support the physical, social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health of school communities; and
  • Assess the impact of interrupted instruction and accelerate learning for all students and for students with disabilities.
 Here you can find school contact information:
2. Your school should partner with you, as needed, to review and update your child’s IEP.  If necessary for your child, this process should consider how your child’s needs may have changed and how your child’s IEP supports them in accessing accelerated learning. It should also consider your needs as a parent for training to support your child   
 
3. Your school should assess your child’s learning levels at the start of the year and share those results with you. Your child’s school should collect student data to better understand how your child’s needs may have changed. Schools may use a variety of tools to assess students, for example, informal screening tools, formative assessments or tests, or by reviewing student progress data.
 

10. I am concerned my child may have lost learning progress last school year during distance learning. What can I expect my school to do to help my child catch up?

The Continuous Education Plans being developed by DC Public Schools and each public charter organization for the 2021-22 school year will include planning for accelerated learning for all students with disabilities. These plans, generally, will help your child with missed instruction that may have occurred during distance learning. Your child may receive accelerated learning supports that are delivered alongside the regular school-year education. Accelerated learning is the District’s approach to recovery services which focuses on placing unfinished learning in the context of new learning, integrating both new information and needed prior knowledge at the same time. Accelerated learning is not limited to special education and will be provided for all students. Accelerated learning addresses interrupted instruction, including learning loss or skill regressions, caused by shifts in instruction due to COVID-19.

Additionally, some students may need “compensatory services.” Compensatory services are designed to make up for a child’s loss in educational progress, if any, when a school does not provide the services required in a student’s individualized education program (IEP). These services would be in addition to accelerated learning supports. Your child's IEP team, including you, should discuss whether your child might need compensatory services.
 

11. My child is placed in a nonpublic special education school. How can I learn more about their school’s plan for the fall?

Your child’s nonpublic special education school is working with the public school in DC that referred them to create plans for the 2021-22 school year. These plans will include details about how LEAs and nonpublic schools will address lost instructional time. They will also describe how the school plans to operate safely. For questions about learning or safety plans, ask your child’s nonpublic school or DC school.

In general, if you have concerns about the nonpublic school your child is attending, you should reach out to the public school in DC that referred your child and your child’s individualized education program (IEP) team.

Here you can find school profiles, along with contact information:

Where can I find information on school plans to assess interrupted instruction and to accelerate learning?

Your school has been developing a plan called a “Continuous Education Plan” for the 2021-22 school year. This plan should be shared directly with you. It will also be on your school network’s website and on OSSE’s website, once finalized. This plan will explain, among other things, how your school will assess the impact of interrupted instruction and accelerate learning.

You should contact your child's school to discuss plans and specific strategies for accelerating learning for your child.
 

12. Where can I find more information on medical exemptions to in-person learning?

Some students have a health condition that requires that they continue distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. To continue distance learning, your child must have a completed, signed permission from their medical practitioner. For more information on medical exemptions, please see OSSE’s COVID-19 Resources for Students and Families.

Supporting your child and family this school year

13. How can I learn about my child’s progress?

Your child’s school is responsible for monitoring your child’s receipt of special education and related services and providing you with periodic progress reports. They should communicate this information to you throughout the school year. In particular:
  • At the start of the school year, your school should check on your child’s learning levels. They should share this information with you, and they should use this information to consider whether any changes are needed to your child’s individualized education program (IEP).
  • Throughout the school year, your child’s school should monitor progress from your child’s IEP. They will communicate with you regularly. This will all be based on the goals in your child’s IEP. If you need help understanding your child’s IEP, ask your child’s teacher or school.
If you have questions, you can ask your child’s teacher or special education coordinator.
 

14. What can my family do to manage stress and wellness during this time?

We know this is a stressful time for families and students across DC. There are many resources available to help.      
 
Access support or resources:
  • Resources from the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH):
    • You can call DC’s Access HelpLine, 1(888) 7WE-HELP or 1(888)793-4357.
    • This one-page behavioral health flyer explains the types of supports available.
    • DBH runs the Parent Support Program, including an online parent support group called Wellness Wednesdays and individualized consultations, as well as other resources.
    • The Department of Behavioral Health has more information and resources.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a resource page to help students and families.
  • Interested in more support for your child? Call your school and ask to be connected with the “Behavioral Health Coordinator.” They can help connect your student to services.
Attend a virtual training or workshop:
  • DCPS Parent University Online has virtual workshops for all families in DC. The workshop schedule and past recordings are available online.
  • If you care for a child younger than age 6, you can participate in the online Positive Parenting Program. This program is provided by the DC Department of Behavioral Health. This program will help you practice handling challenging situations. To access the program, enter “dcparents” as the enrollment key when you create an account.
Connect with other families:
  • The State Advisory Panel on Special Education (SAPSE) has open meetings where you can meet other families.
  • The Family and Youth Engagement Committee on DC School Behavioral Health is a space for parents to share experiences, concerns, and ideas. The committee meets every third Friday of the month. You can email Ronald LaFleur at [email protected] for the virtual meeting link.
  • Understood.org’s collection of stories shares how families of students with disabilities are coping with COVID-19.

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