“What can I do about missed therapy hours at school?”
I hear this question a lot. And this is an area where there is a huge amount of misinformation. No, they do not have to pay you. The district also does not have to arrange for private outside therapy. I mean, if you get that in a comp ed settlement agreement, sure, go for it. But as a standard day to day practice, not gonna happen. I cannot believe I have not addressed it before. So here goes. These are the steps I recommend you take if your child is frequently missing their therapy hours at school.
First, know that IDEA 2004 does NOT address these issues. So don’t look for it there. I have the OSEP letter at the end of this post.
Missed Therapy Hours at School
- First, be proactive. Get it spelled out in the IEP. Or at least in writing via email.
- How will your child’s service hours be tracked?
- Will you be informed of each session, of what was done? weekly? monthly?
- How will you be informed? email? Checklist?
- Who will inform you of missed sessions?
- What is the school’s policy on missed or make-up sessions? (ask to see the policy!)
- How many do they miss before they are made up?
- Do they utilize substitutes for therapies?
And, stay on top of it. It would be lovely if every parent could be assured that every therapy session is taking place or being made up. Still, it makes me roll my eyes when I see a Facebook post in May that says, “My son missed 22 sessions this year! What should I do?” Really, 22? Why did it take you until 22 to ask for assistance when they are 8 days of school left? Parents must take responsibility for progress monitoring, including service hours.
A team is much more likely to cooperate with the detail-y stuff like this if you make it simple for them. You can offer to do a weekly or monthly email asking to verify the service hours and all they have to do is respond yes or no. Then you put it on your calendar or use a scheduling program to schedule all the emails ahead of time.
2. Know your school’s policy and monitor your child.
Once you get a system in place, and you know what the policy is, monitor it. And, having a non-verbal child myself, I get it. Sure, I trust my team. But, it’s always a good idea to have documentation and records too. We must, as parents, take ownership of this.
3. Ask for it in the IEP.
It might be school policy to not make up sessions due to illness, weather or whatever. Ask for it in the IEP. “If Jacob misses more than 4 sessions this year, they will be made up…..” I can tell you that in 99% of schools, therapists have an extremely high caseload with very little to no wiggle room in their schedules. Take that into consideration and work with the team and you’ll get a lot further. For example, offer to have your child pulled out of class if another child is absent so that the therapist can fill in the gaps in their schedules from other absences.
You can also ask that your school have a back-fill agency for therapists. This will vary by the child because not every child is going to respond well to a substitute. But if missed sessions are getting to be more common, again, be proactive and ask that they have a backup agency to send therapists to avoid missed sessions.
4. Do all your requests in writing.
As with everything else, do all your requests and make-ups and schedule changes in writing. Even if you talk about it in person or on the phone, follow up with an email.
5. Can I ask for comp ed?
Short answer, yes. You can ask for anything. Are you going to get it? You might. Hopefully, it won’t get to that. You can also ask for reimbursement, and find an outside therapist to perform the missed sessions. Again, get it in writing before you commit your own personal money. There are no guarantees unless you have it in writing.
My fitness trainer gave me a whole list of exercises I can do at home if the weather prohibits me from getting to the gym. You can do the same. Get practice exercises and do them at home. Really, you should be doing this anyway.
Practice makes perfect.
Think about your piano teacher from the 1970s. No one learns the piano from taking one 30-minute session of lessons per week. The same goes for any sport or activity. You should be practicing with your child all the time. This way, one or two missed sessions will just be a small bump in the road.
OSEP Guidance on Missed Therapy Sessions
In 2007 and again in 2016, OSEP gave guidance on missed sessions.
Basically, it’s no help at all. Awesome. Because it says that it should be handled on a case-by-case basis. “…OSEP reiterated that the determination of whether an interruption in services constitutes a denial of a free appropriate public education is an individual determination that must be made on a case-by-case basis.”
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It just means that it’s not in IDEA, and OSEP gives little guidance, so in this advocate’s opinion, being proactive is the way to go.