School Is Different Now. Does Your Child’s Plan Still Work?

 ADHD Weekly, October 1, 2020

The school year is underway, with some school districts already reaching middle of the marking period. Parents of students who are struggling in school may receive progress reports, alerting them to the student’s difficulties. In districts where learning is taking place at home or in a modified at-home/at-school schedule, many children with ADHD are facing greater learning challenges than they have in previous years.

If your student has an IEP or a 504 plan to help meet his educational needs, it may be a good idea to schedule a meeting with the education team, either in person or using a video conferencing tool. As long as the school district is providing an education to its students, it must continue the supports required by a student’s academic accommodations plan.

In some school districts, this has meant bringing students with an accommodation plan into the school building for instruction while peers continue to learn at home. For a majority of students with a 504 plan or IEP, it means the school district is required to provide those services while the student learns at home.

Guidance on academic plans and at-home learning

In March, the US Department of Education instructed schools to continue academic accommodation plans while students learn at home.

“As educators scramble to find ways to deal with this sudden crisis and to serve families and students as best they can despite the turmoil, the education of students with disabilities must not be forgotten,” asserts the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. “Such services under IDEA are not optional—there is no hardship exemption that state or local education agencies can fall back on.”

The DOE guidance states that students with academic plans must receive an equal opportunity for learning if the school district is educating students. The school district must, to the greatest extent possible, ensure that students with disabilities, including ADHD, receive the special education services outlined in their IEPs or 504 plans. Parents who have concerns regarding their student’s educational plan should address those concerns with the school. Even with school buildings closed, the education team must meet with parents when a request is made.

Revisiting academic plans during the pandemic

Even though your child started the school year with an academic plan carried over from the previous school year, it’s possible things haven’t gone as expected because of at-home or hybrid school schedule.

“IEP or 504s are certainly set up with good intentions, but they’re fairly vague and leave room for interpretation that can lead to inconsistent implementation. Parents really need to be advocates for themselves and their children,” says Joshua Langberg, PhD, co-director of the Center for ADHD Research, Education and Service, and director of the Promoting Adolescent School Success (PASS) Lab, both at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Schools are busy—they’re overwhelmed. So it’s on the parent to take the initiative to, in a non-threatening way, reach out and say, ‘How are things going?’”

Accommodations that were useful or working before the pandemic may no longer meet the student’s learning needs. Or, with the changes in learning, accommodations may need to be added or modified for the current situation. Dr. Langberg says you’ll want to keep two things in mind:

  • Goals: What behaviors are you concerned about, especially regarding video instruction? What are you hoping the teacher will do in response to those behaviors? If your child has trouble staying on task, for example, and his teacher has agreed to help him get back to his schoolwork and follow through, what will that look like?

“I would want to know how often the teacher’s going to help,” says Dr. Langberg. “Is it going to be an everyday thing? Is it going to be once a day? Are you aiming for multiple times a day when this student would be prompted? Otherwise, you feel like this is a good thing, but the teacher may or may not be thinking in the same terms that you are thinking.”

  • Measurement: How will you know whether the accommodations are being made? Will you need to check in with the teacher? Will you get feedback from the school regularly and will it be on the school’s education platform for you to access? And, perhaps most importantly, how will you know whether the accommodations are working?

Meeting with the academic team

Once you’ve scheduled a meeting with your child’s teacher and the education team, Dr. Langberg suggests you spend time preparing. He encourages parents to brainstorm questions and practice asking them. It’s important you feel comfortable asking as many questions as you have. Thinking about your concerns and the information you’re looking for ahead of time can help keep in check some of the emotions that often come up at such meetings.

“You’ll want to consider the words you’re going to use that are going to make what you want from the school most likely to be well received—and that’s hard,” says Dr. Langberg, adding that in his work, he often practices role playing with parents. “It’s one thing to go in there upset and yell, but often, that’s not going to lead to the outcome you want. So think about how you can be calm, direct, and logical to get the outcome you want for your child.”

If you feel you’ll have a hard time staying calm, consider having someone with you, either in a meeting at the school or on the video conference. Besides your child’s other parent, it might be an aunt or uncle, for example, or a close adult friend—someone who knows your child well but is a bit removed from the situation and can help you say what you really mean. You might also choose to invite a professional, a psychologist, or an educational advocate who can speak for your child from a professional standpoint.

In this together

Think of your efforts as a collaboration with the school—and make sure the team knows you see it that way. John Brady, PhD, is professor emeritus of school psychology at Chapman University and an advocate of regular communication between parents and educational teams. He suggests that if you haven’t already, you might consider saying something to them along these lines: “You, the teacher, and we, the parents, are in this together. We all want what is best for our child, but the process often puts us at odds because we aren’t communicating well. We suggest thinking of this as a problem-solving process in which both the school staff and the parents are responsible for creating and implementing a program of success for our student.”

These kinds of conversations don’t require formal sit-down meetings or video conferences, either. Dr. Langberg suggests that any meeting between parents and their child’s school include an understanding that there will be follow-up. Maybe you’ll agree to touch base by email or phone once a week or every other week to see how things are going from the school’s perspective and discuss whether any adjustments need to be made. You may decide to contact the teacher or someone else, such as a school psychologist or guidance counselor, for the routine check-ins.

Looking for more?

Join the discussion: How often do you check in with your child’s teacher and school?