Accessing Special Education during COVID-19

April 27, 2020

Updated 6/25/2020

During these unprecedented times, schools are working remotely to provide services to students with disabilities.

Federal and State Guidance

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) provided the following guidance for local education agencies:

  • Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease Outbreak
  • Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students.

On a state level, New Jersey’s Department of Education (DOE) allows the use of telecommunication to deliver instruction and announced that they will offer more guidance soon.


Answering Your Special Ed Questions

Still, many questions remain.  Below, we offer what is known about special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We will be updating this article with new information as soon as it is available.  If you have specific questions, we encourage you to reach out to our Helpline at 800.4.AUTISM or information@autismnj.org.

Can we still hold our IEP meeting?

Yes, IEP meetings should continue via telecommunication with parental consent.

Can we still file for mediation/due process?

Yes, according to US DOE Dispute Resolution Q&A, mediation and due process can still be initiated and held via telecommunication.

What are compensatory services?

Compensatory services are awarded to students with IEPs to make up (compensate) for services they lost. This can happen when the appropriate services were not provided in a timely manner or at all. Under normal circumstances, these services would be made up in a way that meets the student’s individual need such as doubling a weekly service. Services can also be made up at a later date. As noted in the USDOE federal guidance, this approach may be used in connection with COVID-19 school closures in some circumstances.

Will my child be eligible for compensatory services due to COVID-19?

The short answer is no one knows yet. Current federal and state guidance call for services to be provided remotely to the greatest extent possible. In some cases, the implementation of services via telecommunication may not be sufficient or even possible to provide. The decision to provide compensatory services will be determined on an individual basis in the greater context of federal, state, and local policies. For more information on compensatory services and what you can do to document the need for such services, see Autism New Jersey’s article Compensatory Services in School.

Am I required to sign a waiver in order to receive services?

No. In fact, the DOE issued guidance, Parental Waivers for the Delivery of Remote or Virtual Special Education and Related Services, to send a clear message to parents and districts alike that requiring parents to sign a waiver or release of present or future claims as a condition to implement a student’s IEP is prohibited.

If you are asked to sign a waiver of any kind – for compensatory services, liability, anything – in order to receive special education services, we strongly recommend you review the waiver with your attorney or call us at 800.4.AUTISM so we can explain your rights. If professional legal services are needed, we will refer you to an attorney or another resource.

Can evaluations proceed for the initial referral for special education?

Here in New Jersey, state officials are, as always, encouraging initial referrals for special education. For children turning 3, parents can still submit Early Intervention (EI) evaluations to the school districts for review. According to recent guidance issued by the DOE, school districts may be able to conduct in-person evaluations to determine eligibility. Initial educational evaluations can still be conducted remotely with parental consent and should continue to adhere to the state established timeline. If conducting evaluations remotely is not in the student’s best interest or there are pandemic-related delays, school districts are encouraged to work with parents to reach both a mutually agreeable path forward and extensions of time, as appropriate.  

While this has not impacted New Jersey yet, federal consideration is being given to extend the timeline to conduct the initial evaluations and authorize an extension of EI services so a child can continue to receive EI services after his/her third birthday until the initial evaluation is completed. 

Can we still access transition services?

While transition services should be provided remotely to the greatest extent possible, some transition services, such as community-based instruction, cannot be provided and may be postponed. This is one example in which compensatory services would likely be considered to make up for missed services.

What happens for students who are graduating this year?

Graduation may occur as previously scheduled or be delayed to accommodate the delivery of compensatory services. The NJ DOE issued the guidance, Providing Additional Services for Students with Disabilities Who Will Graduate or Exceed Eligibility for Special Education Services, which explains that students who will graduate or exceed eligibility may still be entitled to services due to school closures. Parents should meet with the IEP team to discuss the need for services beyond June 30th, 2020. Parents of all students in or near their graduation year should become familiar with the DDD Graduates Timeline.

Will Extended School Year (ESY) Services be provided in-person this summer?

The DOE issued Guidance on the Delivery of ESY Services to Students with Disabilities — June 2020, which states that school districts have the option to hold ESY in-person, remotely, or a combination of both, on or after July 6th. If the school district chooses to provide in-person ESY services, they must comply with the Department of Health’s New Jersey COVID-19 Youth Summer Camp Standards. Districts may also choose to provide ESY services through virtual or home instruction. The guidance also states that districts can also provide in-person evaluations to determine eligibility for special education, reevaluations, small groups interventions and/or related services in accordance with the NJDOH standards while delivering other ESY services remotely.  See our related article:  DOE Gives Schools Choice for ESY,

For additional information about accessing special education services, contact Autism New Jersey’s 800.4.AUTISM Helpline.


Experience Our Power of Connection

Autism New Jersey will continue to follow recommendations from the CDC and state Department of Health as the state begins to move through the stages of reopening.

We’re proud to say that not one call to our Helpline has gone unanswered. If you need assistance, call us at 800.4.AUTISM or information@autismnj.org or send us a message/chat with us via the link at the bottom of this page.

We remain focused on our mission to be a resource for the autism community. We recognize that there are many questions and complex considerations, and we are working hard to address these substantial issues and provide our expertise and stakeholder perspectives as plans are developed. We encourage you to regularly visit our central hub of coronavirus resources for the autism community.