Federal officials say that individualized education program teams must consider everything from goals to masks to compensatory education in order to ensure that students with disabilities are being provided the free appropriate public education they’re entitled to during the pandemic.

New guidance from the U.S. Department of Education is addressing many considerations for IEP teams, offering input on how IEPs should be modified to address changes brought on by COVID-19.

The 41-page Q&A document issued late last week comes in response to questions from stakeholders, the Education Department said. It is the second special education guidance release from the agency since the start of this school year.

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According to the guidance, schools and IEP teams must account for the needs of students with disabilities who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. If an IEP team determines that COVID-19 prevention strategies are necessary in order for a student to receive a free appropriate public education, those measures must be included in the child’s IEP. This could include wearing masks, cleaning or other mitigation steps.

If state or local laws or policies limit IEP teams from making sure these measures are in place in the least restrictive environment, that would be a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Education Department said.

Further, if an IEP team is unable or unwilling to address the health and safety needs of a child with a disability who is at increased risk for COVID-19, parents can utilize the dispute resolution procedures available under IDEA, the guidance states.

“The pandemic didn’t alter IDEA’s guarantee of a free appropriate public education for children with disabilities,” said Katherine Neas, acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. “As more and more students return to in-person learning, the department emphasizes the critical role that IEP teams, including parents, have in making individualized decisions about each child’s educational needs, including assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health and safety considerations and on providing appropriate special education and related services.”

Beyond health and safety, federal education officials said it is “critically important that the IEP team also consider any adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on each child with a disability.”

Children may need their goals revised to reflect a decline in knowledge and skills and compensatory services may be warranted. Even those who have graduated or passed the age of eligibility for IDEA may qualify for compensatory services, the guidance indicates.

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