In-Person or Virtual Learning?

Wow! I really thought and hoped that this post would only be valid for one school year. But here we are.

As I am working on this post, many parents are struggling with the decision of whether or to send their kids back this fall. And, our leaders are making it a political decision rather that offering guidance, assistance and funding.

graphic organizer for back to school during a pandemic

My Best Tip

Before we even get into the nitty gritty of facts and regs…let me tell you this. Focus on what you can control.

I cannot control how other people feel, act or think about my child. I am angry that some folks think their rights supersede my child’s rights. Humanity is a cesspool right now. Try to rise above it, and do what you can within your own community and household.

Dwelling on anger and frustration from others is not going to allow you and your family to progress.

Yep, it sure seems simple enough. Most people want “an abundance of caution” so that everyone stays safe. A very small but vocal group has a reason of “I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.” It seems logical enough, but I’m not going to convince these folks to change their thinking.

Getting Started

So, what should we do? Here is a methodical way of looking at your situation. I’m even including a free printable graphic organizer. Sometimes I just have to see it all out there rather than just have the information in my head.


It’s also important to note, that even though we’re tired of hearing the phrase, this truly is unprecedented territory. I have not heard of one Due Process decision or Federal appeals case addressing distance learning and lack of FAPE for an IEP student. Or, a school refusing to provide homebound IEP placement, make extra cleaning accommodations, or something like that.

going back to school pandemic

IEP Concerns and Fall of 2021

I think I have addressed the major concerns in this post. These 3 are the recurring ones in the Facebook group.

Physical Health Concerns

I am concerned about my child’s physical health and COVID-19 because he/she is high risk; OR, I have other high-risk family members and am concerned about my child bringing it home.

Social/Mental Health

I am concerned about my child’s mental health from being home and without friends for so long; and/or do not feel the distance learning they are receiving is adequate; FAPE not being provided.

Financial Concerns

I have financial concerns. I have to send my child to in-person school, regardless of any other concerns I may have because I have to go to work.

Financial Concerns: My child has to be in school.

Many parents have some unfortunate choices to make. Their children must be in school or they cannot work. Remember, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food and shelter come first.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs, scalable vector illustration
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a scalable vector illustration on white background

Regardless of how much a parent may want their child to stay home this fall, it may not be an option for them. But, before you’ve resigned yourself to this, I want to encourage you one last time to do a brainstorm session on whether or not this could happen. Exhaust every possible option, no matter how crazy it might sound.

  • Talk with your employer. Exhaust every possible option and be solution-oriented before you ask to meet with them. Can you job share? Can you do some of your work at home and some in the office, and can those work hours be done on weekends? Will they let you switch to a flexible work schedule? Is telecommuting an option, or can you switch jobs within the company, even if it’s a pay cut and done temporarily?
  • What about a “bubble?” The NBA did it, why can’t we? See if you can find within your circle of friends or church, a group that is willing to create a bubble. You agree that your kids will only interact with people inside the bubble. Think about what options can be done inside your bubble. Can each parent work a 4-day week, and the other watches the kids on their 5th day? Can you watch kids in your home for money in your bubble?
  • Finding a different job. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. Unload all of your possibilities here. Nothing is too crazy for consideration. I have a list of work-from-home jobs for moms that you may want to consider.

Gathering your Information to make your Pandemic Education Decision.

I think it’s important to find credible and local sources of information. I keep seeing quotes like “it’s because of all the testing!” and “It only affects 1% of people!” Well, that may or may not be the case. For my particular borough, the infection rate based on testing is actually 4%, but the death rate is 0. Find reliable sources of national, state, and local information on Covid-19.

CDC Guidelines about Going to School

Here’s what the CDC says, directly from their website.

  • Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
  • More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
  • Highest Risk: Full-sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

Federal Guidance regarding COVID-19 Coronavirus and IDEA

As far as I can see, nothing has changed regarding Federal Guidance and IDEA since the spring. A few new memos were put out, but they pertained to procedural details like electronic signatures and student records.

The memo from March 21 still stands. The shortened version is: During the pandemic, schools are still bound to FAPE. However, the memo also says, “The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency.” It also states, “Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services – or even making decisions about how to provide services – IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020 guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.”

So, there you go. As far as the Dept of Ed is concerned, you need to handle your child’s concerns on an individual basis, which is really no different than non-pandemic learning.

State Guidance during Pandemic Learning

Several weeks ago, I published a list of all the states and what guidance they have put out regarding IEPs and 504s during the pandemic. Please read what your state says. Some states have changed their message from spring until now. But it’s important that you read what your state is doing so you know what options are available to your family.

LEA-Fall 2021 Learning Plan

Lastly, keep up with your local education agency (LEA). That’s your local school district. You want to read through their specific plan of how they plan to address COVID-19 in the schools, on the busses, distance learning, etc. Again, you want facts, not gossip. “I heard they’re going to….” is not helpful. Wait until they publish the information. It’s hard! I get it. I have one on Tuesday and one coming out on Thursday and I’m a nervous wreck!

In-Person Learning for Fall 2021 with an IEP

Once you’ve read your district’s plan, how do you feel about it? Here are just a few things to think about.

  • Will my child be safe from COVID-19, to the best of what could possibly be done?
  • Do I have concerns about non-classroom time, such as lunch and the bus?
  • Are my child’s needs specific enough to warrant more concerns? IE: Does your child use an AT device that others may be touching? Does your child refuse to wear a mask? Does your child require significant physical prompts or hand-over-hand that would negate social distancing?
  • Can you envision what the classroom is going to look like each day? If everyone is behind Plexi and not permitted to interact anyway, are there really any social benefits to going?
  • Can your child take responsibility for their own safety, social distancing, and well-being? Can they wash their own hands, keep their hands off of others, cover their mouth when coughing?
  • If your child has a 1:1 aide or para, what do you think that will look like? If we all are unable to touch each other, can this support be provided without close proximity? If it moves to verbal prompting, is that really helpful?
  • If anxiety is an issue, how do you think your child may react to seeing a new school building with Plexi and classmates wearing masks? Have you talked with them about this?
  • Have you discussed all the options with your child? How do they feel about this?
  • Your child will be in school because you have to work. If your child requires additional measures to be safe, beyond what the district has said it is going to provide, what are they? What services are not going to be able to be provided and what is going to be done about that (thinking of things like hands-on PT)? If you asked for them in writing (follow IEP process!) to be added as IEP accommodations, what was the district’s response? Keep good data for compensatory services.

Homeschool | Homebound | Cyber Charter | Distance Learning

Perhaps after reading your district’s plan, you’re really leaning toward keeping your child home. Learning at home is different than learning in the classroom, so make sure you take into account any additional needs your child may have.

Additional Needs that May Be Incurred due to Distance Learning

  • If a child is setting in a chair at a desk, make sure feet are directly touching the ground or surface (not dangling), desk at elbow height (not too high or low), chair not too deep, consider a Move N Sit cushion or Theraband especially if that has helped in past, fidget toy access or weighted backpack on lap if helpful.
  • Some children may do best NOT sitting in a chair at a desk.
  • Warm-ups/breaks: heavy work options, stretching, jumping, hand squeezes, wall pushes, etc.
  • Do they need less/more input? Including auditory- some kids focus better with music or background noise. Now is time to help the child figure out what they need, and become more independent with managing sensory needs.
  • Visual schedules: all of us need our own form of visual schedule, even adults (think iPhone daily calendar). 
  • Daily visual schedule/ to-do list of work to follow along.
  • The weekly list is broken down into chunks- help the child visualize and understand the big picture first (what is due on Friday) then break down into manageable daily pieces. Work with the child in advance to plan out when to complete each piece during the coming week. This planning process in and of itself is a way to help improve executive functioning.
  • Make sure that all of their Executive Functioning Needs are met if there are changes due to being at home (or more to remember while at school).

The Differences between the Stay-at-Home Options

Homeschooling is a term that gets used a lot when the family is not actually homeschooling. True homeschooling means that the parent develops the curriculum (or buys one). In other words, the parent chooses the curriculum and is responsible for teaching all of it. In some states, you can still receive IEP Related Services when you choose this option.

Another option of course is to use your private insurance and your child’s Medical Assistance if they have it and if teleservices are appropriate during this time. To participate in true homeschooling, you withdraw your child from the local district and relinquish your IEP. Depending on the time frame, the IEP may resume when the child re-enrolls in the district (IE-if it’s only been a few weeks) or re-evaluated. Re-evaluating is best practice, particularly since needs have changed.

Cyber Charter: In recent years, cyber charters have become more popular. They may also be called Virtual Charter. There are several names for them and not every state has them. But, in most cases, they are considered a public school and therefore are bound to all the laws, including IDEA. Now, I’m not knocking all the hard work that parents have to put in for cyber charters since your kid is home all day. And I see why many find it easier to just say ‘we’re homeschooling.’ But your child is enrolled in a public school. Therefore, you would follow the IEP process just as you normally would in your home district. Even though the logistics might be different. If you choose a Cyber Charter, the IEP is usually treated as if the family moved. The current IEP stays in place and the new district (the cyber charter) evaluates the child after a short period of time.

Distance Learning: Back in the spring, all schools had to jump to distance learning with no notice at all. Schools were open one day and closed the next. Now they’ve had time to prepare. I know many parents were feeling “meh” at best about the spring distance learning programs offered. Read what your LEA is offering for Fall. Hopefully, it’s more thorough than it was a few months ago. Make sure that you take into account any additional needs that your child may have now that they are learning at home instead of in the classroom.

Homebound IEP Placement: Homebound is very different from homeschooling or cyber schooling. Children who are either too ill or too disabled to attend school may get a placement change to homebound. This is a placement change per the IEP, so you have to request it via the IEP process. Do your request in writing, meet, follow up with PWN. For the states that are requiring in-person attendance this fall, and forbidding districts from offering virtual learning, this is what you are going to have to do. Unless you choose to enroll in a cyber charter. But, if your state does not offer cyber charters, this is the path you’ll have to take. Keep in mind that our own CDC has called in-person learning one of the most high-risk situations to be in. Use that!

Other Considerations for Homebound or Distance Learning

  • How will progress monitoring be done?
  • How long is this decision for? When can your child return to in-person learning?

Coming up with your decision.

If you must send your child to physical, in-person school because you need your job, your options include: working with your employer, finding a new job, creating a “bubble” of families and having your child do distance learning with them.

If your concerns are your child’s physical health, your options are homeschooling, cyber schooling or distance learning. If those options are not available to you due to either your job, your state’s regs or district offerings, then your options are: Contact your IEP team to ask for Homebound Placement or to add necessary accommodations to your child’s IEP to keep them safe.

If your concerns are your child’s lack of activity and social or mental state due to being isolated, your options include: Creating social and other opportunities within a “bubble” of families within your community for recreation and working with your IEP team for either a hybrid approach or making your child safer while at school.

How to Make your Fall 2021 Education Decision

  1. Gather all the necessary information. This includes your state’s guidance, the plans your district releases for Fall 2021, what options you have in your state, and your list of concerns.
  2. Talk with your child’s doctor(s).Get their input on your child’s specific medical needs. Get Rx or data from them if you need it.
  3. Evaluate your district’s plan against your concerns, whether it’s their in-person or remote learning plan. And make a list of what would have to change.
  4. List your options. If your state is not offering the options you want, what are your options?
  5. If your concerns cannot be accommodated, what are your options? Your child may need additional accommodations in the classroom or at home, what are they? Discuss with your child’s team.
  6. Submit your requests to the District. Follow up with PWN. It is essential that you keep good records during this time in case you need to follow up and ask for compensatory services.
  7. Follow School Deadlines. My district wants a decision by 7/31. On one hand, I’m really nervous and feeling under-the-gun. However, my professional recommendation is that you follow the requested guidelines. Sure, life happens and things have to be changed. But schools are trying to figure out how many buses they need, how many classrooms and so on.
  8. Listen to your gut. Too often, we are talked out of our gut instincts. Especially women! You know your child, your family, your situation. Do what your instincts tell you are best for your family.

This isn’t easy for anyone. It’s hard, but we’ll get through it. I too am working through this decision with both of my kids. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some thoughts and important points, so either let me know or ask in the Facebook group.

Now, if you made it this far, and you need to make a request for homebound or home instruction, here you go.

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