Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Feds Releases Guidelines for Educating Students with Disabilities in the Event of a Swine Flu Outbreak

By Lisa J. Hudson

A school closure due to a swine flu outbreak is scenario that raises many "What if?" questions for state educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), schools and postsecondary institutions. A prolonged school closure due to exceptional circumstances is a "What if?" scenario that the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA do not specifically address.

Recognizing this, the U.S. Department of Education released guidelines on Sept. 1 that generally outline the obligations of, and best practices for, SEAs, LEAs, and schools to their students with disabilities in the event of an H1N1 outbreak.

Generally speaking, if schools are closed and do not provide any educational services to the general student population, then they would not be required to provide services to special education students. Once school resumes, the schools need to determine whether a student with a disability needs compensatory education.

Additionally, Education Week notes that the guidelines says, if a student loses skills because of a prolonged absence from school, the IEP team must determine what compensatory services are needed, and these services can be delivered by providing extended school-year services, extending the school day, providing tutoring before and after school, or providing additional services during regular school hours—all scenarios where transportation may play a role in ensuring these services are provided.

Of interest to special needs transporters is the section of the guidelines that answers the following questions:

• Must an LEA continue to provide FAPE to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by an H1N1 outbreak?

• In the event of a school closure, how might educational services be provided to students with disabilities?

• What must a school do if it cannot provide services in accordance with a student’s IEP or Section 504 plan because of an H1N1 outbreak or if a student opts to stay home because the student is at high-risk for contracting the virus?

• In the event that a school is closed, would an IEP team be required to meet? Would an LEA be required to conduct an evaluation of a student with a disability?

• What steps must be taken to serve a student with a disability who may have lost skills as a result of a prolonged absence from school?

• If an LEA is required to provide services to parentally placed private school students with disabilities during an H1N1 outbreak, how will the LEA communicate with these private schools?

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