Virtual/Remote IEP Assessments
This issue has been coming up in the Facebook Group often. I guess this pandemic is going on longer than any of us had hoped, and I can’t ignore this issue. Your school is doing virtual or online learning, and your child is due for IEP re-evaluations. What to do?
There are a lot of what-if scenarios for this. And, in some cases it’s going to be state or school district or discipline specific. Can IEP evaluations be done virtually? Should they? What if your school is refusing to evaluate your child until in-person learning returns? What if you want to wait, as the parent, and don’t want virtual IEP assessments?
Let’s dig in.
Are Online IEP Evaluations Allowed?
The first thing to do is you’re going to have to look at each discipline or related service separately. For example, ASHA is the organization that oversees Speech, Language and Hearing. They have come out with very specific guidance and recommendations around COVID and distance learning, providing tele-services and so on.
Some disciplines and related services lend themselves to doing online services and evaluations and others do not. It can even change within a discipline.
For example: Some types of speech evaluations can be done virtually with success. However, some feeding evals (often done by SLPs) cannot. An OT may need to be with your child to assess their fine motor skills. But OTs often do “sensory” programming and that assessment can likely be done verbally.
The takeaway here is this: A school cannot or should not give a blanket statement of “Yes we can/must do all the assessments online” or “No, we cannot do any IEP re-evals because of COVID.””
Because there is not a once-size-fits-all answer. You’d have to read each protocol for each assessment, and whether or not that professional can do them online. Make sense?
State Guidelines on Distance Learning
Next, you’ll have to compare that to what your state has said. I have links to all 50 states and their Special Education Regulations in a separate post.
Most of the states have varying levels of emergency as it pertains to COVID. If a state or county is in a level that prohibits in-person contact, then you cannot demand it, regardless of IEP renewal date. Yes, the Dept of Ed has said no waivers, but to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a precedent setting case in this area yet.
If a state is allowing in-person contact, then yes, that overrides district policy. There was a case in NY regarding this.
Look at your Current Present Levels.
The Present Levels Section of the IEP is the most important section, in my professional opinion. So, it’s necessary to get it right. And, the PL is derived from evaluations.
This is not an area where I’d skimp or allow shortcuts.
Before you sign the permission to evaluate form, ask what specific assessments are going to be done. You can also ask for explanation on how that assessment differs from what was done in the past.
Should I agree to a REED during Distance Learning?
A REED is a re-evaluation of existing data. The school takes existing reports and assessments and just draws up a new Re-Evaluation Report and Present Levels section.
Honestly? I hate REEDs. And I have yet to see a scenario where it really makes sense to do one. All it does is save time and money for a school district.
In most cases, a child has not been evaluated in 2-3 years. On top of that, all students had less instruction March through June. The 2020/21 school year has been….less rigorous than what is usual.
The learning environment has changed. Demands have changed. And now you want to tell me that data from 2-3 years ago is relevant and valid today?
Ok, let’s review. This is what you’ve done so far.
- Read your child’s current Present Levels section. Make notes of what is relevant, what is no longer relevant and new areas of need that you want evaluated during re-evals.
- You’ve read your state’s regs as far as what is allowed in-person and what is not.
- You’ve compared that to each area (PT/OT etc.) and what those organizations are recommending for evaluations. Note: You can always just email your child’s provider(s) and ask “Are in person evals permitted right now?”
Steps to Re-Evaluation during a Pandemic
Personally, I would not ask a provider to either go against their employer or go against their national certifying body.
But, if a school district is refusing to do evaluations, and based on what you’ve read they are permitted, you’re going to have to ask for their refusal on a PWN.
Are Virtual Evals as good as In-Person?
Depends. Depends on the child, the evaluator and the tool they are using. If their accrediting body has determined that it’s acceptable, then it’s acceptable. In other words, if ASHA says you can do a virtual speech eval, and your SLP wants to do it virtually, you don’t have much ground to demand an in-person eval.
And, I would expect that we are going to see a push toward this in the future, even after the pandemic. I think this is going to be accepted practice, particularly for rural areas.
It’s new, it’s different. Change can be hard. I know it “feels” like in-person is better, but that may not always be the case. And, with limited resources, we should be supportive of anything that is going to allow schools to be more efficient. As long as it’s not to our kids’ detriment.
Parent Participation in Evaluations
Parents should take an active role in your child’s IEP evaluations and re-evaluations. Too often, they are directive. “This is when we are doing the evals.”
Do a letter to your IEP team. Make sure you note what has changed in your child since the last evaluation. Ask for unidentified concerns to be evaluated. They have to evaluate in every area of suspected disability, so if they do not suspect it, bring it to their attention.
My School has asked us to Postpone IEP Evaluations.
Some schools are developing Remote Learning Plans or Distance Learning Plans. As part of this, they are delaying evaluations until in-person evaluations can occur.
Whether or not you agree to that is up to you. You could ask for a REED, or for a no-meet addendum to the IEP if there are things you wish to change.
The Dept of Ed was very clear in their guidance of “No Waivers to IDEA during the pandemic.” However, like much of special education, this will have to be decided by case law.
If you do not want to postpone the IEP evaluations and the school refuses to do them, you ‘re going to have to either use a PWN and file for Due Process, or ask for an IEE.
My School wants to Evaluate but I want to wait.
If the re-evaluation time period comes and goes, yes, your school district will be out of compliance. And most school districts do not like to do be out of compliance.
However, a signed letter from the parent, stating that you understand that the deadline has passed, however you wish to wait until in-person learning resumes, etc. should suffice, should those records be audited.
Another option would be to ask (in writing!) for a REED and add an addendum that you want the full evals when in-person learning resumes.
You can also refuse to provide your child’s presence for testing, but I don’t recommend that. I’d let them do the virtual evals and then ask for an IEE if you do not agree with the evaluation report.
Ok, I think I’ve exhausted all the options. This post may be updated as situations change or as new questions develop. Good luck!