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OSPI releases guidance for special education as many districts plan for remote learning

Ashley Gross

School districts are moving forward with the huge task of reinventing school during a pandemic. Now, the state has issued guidance to help with one important part — how to serve students in special education.

Across the state more than 160,000 students receive special education services, and the abrupt switch to remote learning in the spring caused a lot of upheaval for those families.

Kathy George is an education rights attorney who served on the work group that drafted the guidance. George said she pushed to add language to ensure districts do not rely on parents as unpaid educators.

“For one thing, it’s not lawful to rely on parents to provide special education to students, but secondly, it didn’t work,” she said. “It just didn’t work.”

But exactly how districts will provide those services and not rely on parents to fill roles normally carried out by teachers and paraeducators is still an open question, given that so many districts in the Puget Sound region are planning to at least begin the school year with remote learning. Districts should provide in-person services to students that need it in the fall, George said.

The guidance calls for districts to offer something called recovery services to help students in special education make progress on their individualized education plans. Students who may need recovery services include children who fell behind academically or regressed in other ways.

Glenna Gallo, assistant superintendent of special education for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the state and federal government gave districts some leeway on how to provide special education services in the spring after the abrupt switch to remote learning. But Gallo said that’s changing for the coming school year for students who have individualized education programs (IEPs).

“As we go into the fall and as districts make their plans for services — whether they’re in person, a hybrid system or a remote system — there’s a greater responsibility for them to move back toward implementation of IEPs to the extent possible,” she said.

Gallo said districts will have to meet with families to look over students’ education plans and decide what other services are needed, and she recommends that parents contact their school to request those meetings.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.