The U.S. Department of Education is offering up details about how states and schools can address special education disputes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The federal agency issued two question-and-answer documents Monday — one outlining considerations for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act dispute resolution procedures for services for kids ages 3 to 21 and another for younger children.
The guidance comes in response to inquiries about how procedures should be handled in the COVID-19 environment, the Education Department said.
Officials are acknowledging again that services for students with disabilities may not look the same as they used to, but said that with collaboration, parents and educators can work to meet children’s needs.
“Timely communication between parents and public agency staff can often help resolve disagreements that may arise regarding the educational services provided to a child with a disability during the pandemic,” according to the Q&A. “However, when those informal efforts prove unsuccessful, IDEA’s three dispute resolution mechanisms — mediation, state complaint and due process complaint procedures — are available.”
States do have discretion on a case-by-case basis to extend the timeline for resolving complaints as a result of the pandemic, the guidance indicates. Likewise, timelines can also be adjusted in certain circumstances for due process complaints and hearings can be conducted via video conference or conference calls.
Mediation allows for flexibility on scheduling and could be conducted virtually, the Education Department said.
The agency indicated that like other guidance, the Q&A documents do not establish any new rights or policies, but merely serve as the department’s interpretation of existing laws.