• Special Education and 504

    The HCS Office of Federal Programs recognizes that protecting the safety, health, and welfare of our students and staff is the primary concern as we continue to face the COVID-19 crisis. Through guidance provided by the United States Department of Education and the South Carolina Department of Education, the HCS’ Office of Federal Programs will continue to work in collaboration with schools and parents to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specially designed instruction, and related services to these students.

    The major purpose of the IDEA is to provide specially designed instruction to (a) address the unique needs of a student with disabilities which result from the student’s disability and (b) to ensure access of the student to the general curriculum so that the student can meet the educational standards that apply to all students (34 CFR § 300.39[3]). What the specially designed instruction to meet a student’s unique needs and enable access to the general curriculum looks like may be substantially different based on the learning models.

    Special Education and Related Services

    Specially designed instruction and related services will continue to be provided for all models of instruction, as specified in students’ IEPs and in consideration of those models/schedules determined necessary for students without disabilities. Special education providers will collaborate with general educators to provide access to learning opportunities and provide accommodations/modifications as appropriate based on the student’s unique needs and circumstances. Additionally, special education providers will communicate and collaborate with parents and general education teachers regarding the student’s accommodations and/or modifications and the provision of special education and related services.

    Regardless of the student’s participation model, HCS will provide students with disabilities and their parents with support to ensure students’ IEP goals and objectives are targeted for continued growth. These services and adaptations may include, as appropriate:

    • Synchronous direct and indirect services to students with disabilities based on the individual student needs
    • Asynchronous activities and direct instruction and/or therapy via virtual/interactive platforms, email, and/or phone call consultations
    • Push-in and/or pull-out services with attention to social-distancing requirements and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as defined by the SC DHEC.

    Some specially designed instruction and related services present unique challenges in the models described above. Therefore, students receiving these services may need to be considered for additional face-to-face opportunities when social distancing measures will allow. Additionally, some models may require that students whose IEP services are specified as “group” in a full-time face-to-face model may need to be provided individually in the other models. Learn more about Special Education services at HCS.

    Determining Student Needs Upon Returning from the Extended School Closure

    All students, including those with disabilities, have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended school closure. There are many complexities when determining how distance learning impacted all students. Special education services are not intended to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. Therefore, the impact of the COVID-19 school closure for all students must be considered first. In addition, IEP teams must consider to what extent specialized services, supports, and accommodations were delivered to students with disabilities during the COVID-19 school closure. HCS must take into account the effect of the COVID-19 school closure for all students when determining the relative impact for a student with a disability when considering the need to amend the student’s IEP and include any supplemental school closure services necessary. Supplemental school closure services are services students need related to the COVID-19 school closure and the related extended learning change to the instructional environment.

    This process will include special education case managers and school data teams reviewing student data to determine the performance of students with disabilities prior to school closure; reviewing the students’ current performance, and determining the appropriate services needed to ensure continued student progress. This should include the collection of assessment data relevant to students’ IEP goals and objectives within the first 20 school days regardless of the instructional model. Data relevant to students’ 2020-21 goal(s) and baseline(s) must be collected to determine students’ instructional needs and if any adjustments are needed to this instruction. Based on this data and information review, IEP teams may need to convene to determine if there is a need for amendments to students’ IEPs.

    This process should consider the following questions:

    • What was the student's rate of progress from August 2019 to March 2020?
    • Where was the student performing at the end of in-person services in March 2020?
    • Where is the student performing at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year?
    • If there is a difference in the performance levels measured, is this difference attributed to/comparable to the impact of the closure on all students?
    • If the rate of student progress is significantly lower, can/should this discrepancy be attributed to the student's disability?

    During this review of information, if it is determined no services were offered and a student did not receive a FAPE during the 2019-20 school year extended closure, the IEP team should convene to consider compensatory services for the student. Compensatory services should be individualized for each student. The team must consider how the student was impacted by the missed services and how the student is expected to respond to compensatory services. Some students may have continued to progress despite the lack of services during the COVID-19 school closure and, therefore, not require compensatory services.

    Scheduling and Grouping Special Populations Students with Disabilities

    HCS recognizes that students with disabilities are general education students first and, therefore, students with disabilities (whether eligible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 [Section 504] or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA]) will be provided equal access to the same opportunities as all other students in either of the above options. HCS will continue to work in partnership with our families to determine appropriate and reasonable means of educating students with disabilities through these varying models and/or schedules of instruction.

    These non-traditional models and/or schedules of instruction and the impact on student needs shall be considered and included, as appropriate for each student, when an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan is initially developed or through the IEP amendment process either with or without a meeting or as specified by the South Carolina Department of Education, Office of Special Education Services. In preparing for instruction and scheduling, HCS will prioritize the inclusion of students with disabilities under the IDEA and will ensure these students are educated alongside their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible. Likewise, students with a mental or physical impairment determined eligible under Section 504 will be provided the accommodations and supports specified in their Section 504 Plans, as appropriate, during all models of instruction.