Guidance for Uncertain Times: What Are My Child’s 504 and IEP Rights for Distance Learning?
Podcast date: August 6, 2020
- Find out the most recent information on IEP (Individual Education Plan) and Section 504 plan regulations
- Get suggestions on how to advocate for your child with an IEP or a 504 plan
- Learn about obligations schools have for providing support
- Learn about accommodations through remote or hybrid learning
- Get suggestions for parents who are seeking an evaluation
Susan Buningh: You are listening to a special podcast of All Things ADHD. Hi. I'm your host, Susan Buningh, and I'm here today with Dr. Jeffrey Katz. Good morning, Dr. Katz.
Jeffrey Katz: Good morning.
Susan Buningh: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jeffrey Katz: Yes. I'm a clinical psychologist in private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I work primarily with children, adolescents, and families. I specialize in attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. I'm also very involved with CHADD. I'm on the Board of Directors, co-chair of the Public Policy Committee, and on the Professional Advisory Board. So, I get to learn a lot from other people. So, I also am very involved with the school systems—being involved in the public policy committee. We work a lot in regard to Section 504 and IEPs. So, I've become a bit of an expert on those things.
Susan Buningh: Have you been able to continue your practice through telehealth?
Jeffrey Katz: Well, actually, yes. Surprisingly, I am very busy and, surprisingly, it works out pretty well. I've always thought having a youngster in the office is the way to connect. The funny thing is they really connect at home. It's interesting to be in somebody's house and see kids in their own environment. And in fact, they can be pretty more relaxed that way. And so, for most all of the kids I see and teenagers I see, this telehealth option really works very well.
Susan Buningh: What's it like talking with the kids right now? The students?
Jeffrey Katz: It's interesting because they are talkative. And I ask everyone, of course, do they have fears, or do they have worries about the virus and all, but I also ask about school. At least in this area, schools are doing continuing school, which is they're giving the kids work. Some of the schools are set up to do some online teaching. I don't know what's going to happen when you have a family with three kids. And all the teachers are online, and I guess they expect the kids to ... everybody to be able to see their classes at the same time. It's interesting from the kids, because I ask about getting work done and the vast majority of the kids I talk to, they are getting their work done. That's what the parents were reporting. They sit down and they do their work.
And it's almost like without the pressure of being in school, without the pressure of having classwork and homework and they're not coming home late in the day and now they have homework, they actually really like it. One of the teenagers I talked to the other day, he said, "Well, this is great because you know, my mom and I set out, you know, we go through the Schoology, one of those platforms is Schoology, and we just write out all the assignments I have and I'll just go through the assignments and check them off." He says, "In school it doesn't work that way. The teacher says something and then this happens and that happens. And I can't keep track of that. And then I get home, I have no idea what I was supposed to be doing."
And a lot of kids will complain that they have to go from this website to that website, to this one, you get information. But the kid says, "This is great. I just go right on through and get this stuff done," which I thought was pretty impressive. So, a lot of the kids seem to be doing pretty well with it. Although the concern is once teachers start teaching again, don't know what that's going to look like. I do talk to them about what the schools should be doing to be supportive of your child, particularly if they have a 504 or an IEP.
Susan Buningh: Now, some parents have heard that the bills passed in Congress will allow the Secretary of Education to waive rules and regulations for Section 504 and for IEPs. What does CHADD know about this?
Jeffrey Katz: Typically, the public policy committee is really keeping an eye on this. This is what I can tell you: within the bill that Congress has passed, the different departments and the different secretaries of health, all the different sectors, they're allowed to waive certain regulations—or regulations they seem fit to waive—during this time, as they’re trying to cope with the virus and its effects. Interestingly, for the Department of Education—and maybe some other ones—but in particular, they were told that they must report to Congress what they want to waive. But they can just not go off and do it without some oversight, which was very interesting. Part of that might be the disability community has gotten very vocal about this, that they're concerned about things like Section 504 or requirements for IEP (special education) would just be waived. And there's no evidence that I know of that that's actually happening.
And CHADD, along with these 50 other disability organizations, wrote to the Department of Education stating that it is so important to maintain the regulations as they relate to special education and Section 504 and that schools should not be absolved of having to follow those regulations. This bill that Congress passed—every 90 days the president would have to go back and ask for it to be renewed—it’s an emergency declaration. So, there are stop gaps in there. If anything has changed, any waivers are put out there, they're not going to last forever and ever. They always have to go through this approval process through Congress. One of them is a fact sheet addressing the risk of COVID-19 in schools while protecting the civil rights of students. The other one is questions and answers on providing services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 disease outbreak.
And what they really emphasize, if a school is absolutely closed down, nothing's happening, well, they don't have to provide services to students with disabilities. However, if the student’s school is in operation, even though the kids are at home, if they're providing any kind of services or any kind of education going on for regular ed kids, for your kids in classes, they must be providing services to students with disabilities. And I can say that in our area, for example, while schools have been out, I've been on two IEP meetings and a Section 504 meeting that's done by Zoom. And one of these was a yearly meeting. Every year they renew it. And it was a nice discussion about how the kid had been doing in school. The meeting was not over till we addressed, “how are you going to support the student while they're at home?”
That's what you need to know. How are you going to support my student at home? And so, for this particular student, which I think actually is important for most students, is for the teacher to have regular contact with that student each week. This kid is in high school. Each teacher should have contact with that student at least weekly, maybe twice a week if they're on a block schedule, to help see where that student is with the work, to help that student plan out what they need to do to stay organized with it, to provide any other support, and then to follow up with that youngster. And if that kid, like they would in regular school, maybe have trouble getting through certain assignments, that the teacher is able to modify those assignments so that the child is able to show what they know and not get bogged down in work that's not that important. So even though the kid is at home, the school should be doing this, and the teacher should be doing it.
Another interesting thing, I think, I had a parent who was saying that this school is teaching, but it's a Zoom kind of thing, so you've got these 25 kids on there with their child who has a math disability. So, I said, "Well, where's the resource teacher?" "Oh, the teachers are on that Zoom too. But they don't say anything. They're there." I said, "Oh, it seems to me, you need to call the case manager because their child with the disability is usually pulled out for math. You need to call that case manager and say, 'You need that service. The child has been getting small group instruction in mathematics, specialized education. They can do that on Zoom too.' There's no reason that a resource teacher can't have a small group on Zoom and get together with those kids. That's a denial of the rights."
It's interesting reading this stuff from the government that came out. It addresses that if your child has accommodations or services through an IEP and they're not getting them, once school is all back together or even before then, I guess, is you have a right to get compensatory education. That school has the obligation to provide that special education that your child might not have received. So, in this time, it's difficult for parents and kids, too, in schools. This is all new to everybody. No doubt. And as we go through it, things are getting put into place. Your child has, I don't want to say a right, that they get something more than everybody else. They're getting these accommodations because the playing field is already tilted for them. Combinations get it back even again.
So, you should be able to expect these things from the schools and from your teachers. And if something's not working, to start going through those pathways, you could call a meetup. You could say, "Look, this is not working for my youngster. I want to have a 504 meeting. I want to have an IEP meeting." And the school is obligated to provide that to you, and they can do it. In fact, all the time. Even if this wasn't going on, speaking up for your kid, advocating is really, really important, and to make sure the school understands what your expectations are of that school.
Susan Buningh: Many of the parents we're hearing from are anticipating that the problems will increase for their children as the schools are moving to the virtual learning platforms. So, what do parents really need to know at this point about Section 504 and IEPs and how to advocate in this kind of new virtual learning?
Jeffrey Katz: The schools have an obligation to provide. Parents need to be informed of that and aware of that. It's like writing an accommodation plan. It's all individualized. So, you’re at home with your youngster, you want to be observant of what's working for your child and what's not working. Are they really understanding what's being talked about? Are they getting the information? Are they having to take notes? What kind of work is required? We want teachers to teach. I would expect that as things get more and more online, there's going to be a lot more teaching. I'm very curious whether they expect the high school schedule to go from 7:30 to 10 every day. Are they going to hold that, or class is going to be shortened somehow? With the child at home, you want to be very observant of where things are breaking down.
Don't forget ADHD, it's a disability. When a kid is getting stressed out or irritable, or I don't want to do this stuff, that's a sign that something's not working for them because most kids are going to want to do well when they can. But if it becomes more problematic, you have to keep the communications there with the school. I really liked this teenager's idea about if he just had a list of things to do and not have to think about what it is he's supposed to do, he's much more able to get that work done. That's a great accommodation in school, but I think it's very important at home, too. And I wouldn't think that it's that difficult, honestly, for a teacher to sit down and list those things. Like I said, I think the teacher should have contact with the student at least weekly. If the child has special educational services, that that resource teacher is involved.
Same thing if your child is really becoming resistant to getting work done, it's not for you to fight with them. I really don't believe that. Kids always listen to somebody else better than their parents. Get the resource teacher. Get the case manager, the 504 case manager to call and say that you need them to call your student regularly and help them out here because you cannot ... Stressful enough being at home. You don't want to make it over school. I know that giving kids extra credit while they're at home is helpful. Even test retakes, if they take the test and don't do well, that they're allowed to retake the test so that they can demonstrate learning, because that's really what you want for your kid. And it's a different setting at home. Different distractions sometimes.
What I'd also like to see happen—and I hope the school thinks about it—is to record the classes. Because if classes are recorded, then kids can go back and re-watch things if they need to. Another thing that some of the schools locally are doing is the different platforms that the schools are on, like Schoology. All these different ones, they're allowing parents into the part of it that the teachers use. So it always seems that there's the parent view and the student view and parents couldn't see the student view, but they're allowing parents now to see what's coming out from those teachers so they have a better idea of what the assignments are and what kinds of things need to be done. And I think that can be very, very helpful. I want to emphasize any problem that your youngster is having, you've got to see it as a problem to be solved.
Susan Buningh: It sounds as though home-school communication and cooperation are as important or possibly even more important than ever.
Jeffrey Katz: I agree. I'm always one to say, you've got to make sure the school understands your expectations. If you have a child with ADHD, your expectation is that this school needs to be responding to what your child's needs are and they can't expect you to do it. A lot of parents are working at home. They can't expect you to be on top of your kid, to watch everything.
Susan Buningh: Another issue that I've been thinking about, a child who maybe does not have a 504 at this point or an IEP. What if the parent wants to initiate a meeting so that the child will be eligible for the services while the schools are online?
Jeffrey Katz: That should be doable. There are some caveats to that. So, I see a teenager who had just talked with the school before all this happened about a Section 504 meeting. And I talked to the mom a couple of weeks ago, she hadn't heard from them. So, I asked her to call the school she did, and there's a meeting set. And this is an initial eligibility meeting for the 504. The school system can do it and they're supposed to meet within 10 working days. They could say, "Look, getting it set up, this is a little more difficult," but as long as you know they're taking it seriously. I would tend to say that if there's not testing available, but they can get accommodations going like through a 504, they can start that pretty much right away.
That's going to take some discussion about how to do it. And I would hope that the school would be amenable to putting things in there that are concerned about a reading issue or math issue that they would put support in there. When you teach kids with ADHD well, when you teach kids in need of special education well, that's the best teaching method that fits all of the students. I would hope that schools remember that, when they can serve the students with disabilities, they're serving everybody very, very well. And I'm sure that's what the schools want to be doing. We just need to make sure that they understand where the glitches come in, where for particular kids something might not be working. Or something else might be better, right? Some other way might be better than what they're currently doing.
Susan Buningh: So, Jeff, is there anything else that I haven't asked you?
Jeffrey Katz: You can't stress yourself out too much. You can only do what you can do. Can't necessarily work for perfection all the time. When we don't know how things are going to work out, you've got to play it by ear. I think everybody will survive through this like people have survived many other tough times that the world has had, and you certainly don't want to get overwhelmed with anxiety and stress trying to be perfect at it. So, I think for parents and teachers, again, I appreciate all that you all are doing. Teachers seem to be doing double duty. But I would like people to be cognizant of—the kinds of things we're talking about—is just thinking it through what's going to work best. And then I think teachers feel better because they're really reaching their students. I think parents feel better because their kids are getting what they need from school. Everybody feels better in the end when good teaching is going on.
Susan Buningh: Thank you once again for your time this morning.
Jeffrey Katz: You're very, very welcome. I appreciate the opportunity.
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