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We’re doing remote learning, and my child’s IEP specifies that he receives an inclusion aide for all his classes. Our principal has been great, but he is in the process of hiring more people, and right now, there don’t seem to be any aides available. (Or else we’re just not getting access to them virtually, I’m not totally sure.) The upshot is that I sit next to my son all day and act as his aide. Is there anything I can do to resolve this?

Frustrated in Framingham

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Ariela Rozman

Ariela Rozman is EdNavigator’s Chief Operating Officer. She also navigates for Greater Boston families, manages remote learning for her middle school-aged kids, and serves as EdNavigator’s baker-in-chief.

Dear Frustrated:

This sounds really frustrating. Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon problem right now. You should know that even in these unprecedented times, your child’s right to a “free and appropriate education” is protected by law, and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is still a legally binding document—so school has to give your son the supports that are documented there. That said, are all services for students with IEPs running smoothly these days? Far from it. So let’s identify a few things we can do that will hopefully help get you the support you need.

First, have you had an IEP team meeting since remote learning began? Even if you’re not coming up on annual review, I’d suggest requesting a meeting to ensure that the team is on the same page about how your child’s services translate to a remote learning setup. In this conversation, it’s worth discussing where the school might pull an aide from right now while they’re still hiring for permanent roles—the substitute pool, for example—so that your child isn’t left without support for any longer.

Your child also has the right to what states are calling “compensatory services,” which are essentially make-up services for any hours of support that have been missed. The IEP team should agree to what that will look like for your child. (The specific guidance will vary by state, but this is protected under IDEA, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Here’s what it looks like in Massachusetts.)

Once you’ve all agreed to the appropriate services, there’s the question of what working with an aide looks like when you’re operating remotely. It might mean someone calls your child on the phone during live remote lessons to provide support. If your school is using Zoom, the classroom teacher can also create a breakout room where your child can go as-needed to work with the aide. During offline lessons, the aide can call your child or do one-on-one Zoom sessions to go over assignments, help your child map out work time, and address any other questions. (And until an aide is available, the classroom teacher should be doing this!)

If you find that even after an IEP team meeting, your child is still not getting the support he’s entitled to, don’t be afraid to escalate your concerns. You can start by restating the concerns you shared at the team meeting in writing (e-mail is fine!), addressed to the team chair. Make sure to include specific documentation of the ways IEP services have continued to not be fulfilled to date. If that doesn’t help, you can address a formal request to your IEP team chair’s supervisor, who is likely in the district’s special education office. If neither of those more local approaches result in getting the supports your child needs, you can choose to use your state’s dispute resolution process, detailed in the Parent’s Notice of Procedural Safeguards. (I’ve linked to the Massachusetts version, but other states will have similar documents.) Of course, our hope is that it doesn’t come to that, since the process can take time, but know that if your efforts at the school or district level don’t result in the supports your child needs, you do have further options.

Finally, is your school or district providing any in-person schooling for students with IEPs? If not, are they moving toward doing so at some point soon? In many places with remote school, students with IEPs are being prioritized first for in-person opportunities. If your school isn’t already doing this, it’s worth asking when the option might become available (although if you choose to keep your child home this year, their educational rights still stand).

“You should know that even in these unprecedented times, your child’s right to a 'free and appropriate education' is protected by law.”