700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

COVID-19 and Special Education: Back to School with IEPs and 504 Plans

Aug 28, 2020
Chalkboard sign that says "Individualized Education Program 504 Programs"

The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly and significantly changed schooling for most children, but it is especially challenging for children with special education needs. For these children, school is far more than learning in a classroom; it’s a place where they receive important physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies, socialize with peers, and have a daily routine.

What Is an IEP and Section 504 Plan?

If a child has a disability, they might qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or 504 plan. An IEP spells out the personalized special education and related services a child needs in school. A 504 plan provides services and changes to the learning environment to help children learn alongside their peers.

Does My Child’s School Still Have to Provide the Services in the IEP or 504 Plan During the Closure?

Yes. School districts are still required by law to provide the services in a child’s IEP or 504 plan to the greatest extent possible. With COVID-19 restrictions, it can be challenging for schools to adjust. Many lack enough teachers, classroom space, or financial support to make all the modifications needed. Parents should contact and work with the school district to determine what adaptations are appropriate and how best to receive these services.

If your school proposes a new plan with reduced services that you feel is not appropriate, you have the option to appeal the new plan. You can also contact the parent information center in your state for help. Your child’s services should be based on their educational needs and are not changed by the circumstances of the pandemic.

What If I Feel My Child Needs an Educational Evaluation but Has Not Had One Yet?

Any parent can request an evaluation for an IEP by writing to the school. If you have already requested an evaluation, school districts are still legally required to perform the evaluation to the best of their ability.

Can My Child’s Pediatrician Help?

Your child’s pediatrician is always there to support you and your child. Here are a few ways they can help guide you:

  • If there is something you do not understand in your child’s IEP or 504 plan, ask your child’s pediatrician. They can review the plan with you so you understand the services your child should be receiving.
  • Your pediatrician can work with you to identify abilities and strengths of your child. Talk to your pediatrician about what kind of learning you think is working, and what is not working. These can be used when reviewing the IEP or 504 plan to determine appropriate services during the closure.
  • Your pediatrician can help connect you with services that children typically get in school, but are unable to with school closures, such as speech, physical, and occupational therapies, as well as mental health and counseling services.
  • If you have concerns about learning that have not yet been addressed, your pediatrician can refer you to a developmental or behavioral specialist, as well as perform hearing and vision screening in the clinic which might help to identify an issue.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities Parent Advocacy Toolkit provides questions for parents and advocates to ask school districts about education issues during the closure. For more COVID-19 resources from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

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Alexandra Sankovic
Alexandra Sankovic, MD
Pediatric Resident

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.