Compensatory Services In Schools

March 20, 2020

As schools close and social distancing is implemented in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, many parents of children with special needs are left with questions and concerns about how school closures and distance learning will affect their child’s special education and related services. Skill regression and the possible emergence of challenging behavior have understandably become top concerns.

Here, we offer information on what is currently known and recommendations for navigating these uncharted paths to services. We will be updating this article with new information as soon as it is available.

FAPE during COVID-19

Is the local education agency (LEA) required to continue to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by a COVID-19 outbreak?

Currently, according to recent guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), if a student who has an IEP or 504 plan and is required or advised to stay home by public health authorities or school officials for an extended period of time because of COVID-19, provision should be made to maintain education services.

If an LEA is not able to provide any educational services to students, then it is not required to provide special education services but may be required to retroactively offer compensatory services once school resumes.

If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a crisis, it “must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE.”

The Department understands that there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided. If a student does not receive services after an extended period of time, the student’s IEP Team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services are needed consistent with the respective applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost.

What is Compensatory Education?

Compensatory education is services that 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. 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 U.S. DOE federal guidance, this approach may be used in connection with COVID-19 school closures in some circumstances.

For example, a student who requires physical therapy as a related service two times per week might be granted a fixed number of hours of physical therapy that would begin once a closure or quarantine related to the virus was lifted.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Make sure to have a clear plan for what services can be provided online during the closure and which ones may need to be addressed through compensatory services once school is resumed
  • Take note of any regression by recording any loss of skills during the school closure
    • Autism New Jersey will be providing a template parents can use to record their observations
    • Be specific – address behavioral, social, speech, self-help, and vocational skills and any physical needs as well as academics
    • Keep logs such as a notebook, excel document, or even video recordings on a smartphone
    • Ask your child’s teacher to also note any loss of skills
  • If time allows, review your child’s records for any loss of skills during other times they went without services
    • Review any past documentation of regression/recoupment cycle over lengthy school vacations. (e.g., summer break, winter break).
    • Focus on significant loss of skills and the child’s difficulty regaining the skills
    • Review any patterns that emerge from previous IEPs and other documentation

We recognize that the health and safety of your loved ones are the most important priorities right now. If time allows, taking a few notes on what your child is doing each day will likely be helpful in the weeks and months ahead as you discuss compensatory services with your child’s school.


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Autism New Jersey is following recommendations from the CDC and state Department of Health and is implementing telework and remote meetings for its employees to help reduce the community spread of the coronavirus.

During this time, our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline will remain open. Please leave a message with specific dates and times you are available for a call-back, or email information@autismnj.org.  You can also message us via our website, and we’ll aim to reply promptly.

We remain focused on our mission to be a resource for the autism community. With a fluid situation and great uncertainty, we’ll share relevant, accurate information as it becomes available. We encourage you to regularly visit our central hub of coronavirus resources for the autism community.