Online And Distance Learning For Children With Special Needs


This unprecedented time of school closures and quarantines is challenging under the best of circumstances, but for families of students with disabilities it is especially concerning. While many school districts have moved to online or distance learning models, students with disabilities may not be receiving the necessary services required to provide them with a free and appropriate public education. Additionally, parents may not be equipped to meet their child’s specialized needs in the home environment.

Even though schools are not holding in-person classes for the foreseeable future, school districts may still have an obligation to provide your child with a free and appropriate public education. Additionally, if your child’s annual IEP meeting is scheduled to happen while schools are not in session, the meeting may still take place either over the telephone or by video conference. Below are some answers to questions you may have:

1. School districts are not required to provide instruction during a closure under a public health order.

2. Even if the school district is not providing instruction to all students, it may chose to provide specialized instruction to students with disabilities, but it is not obligated to do so.

3. If a school district provides some form of learning packets to all students, the district must ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the materials and should consider (but are not required) to provide materials that are revised to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

4. If a school district offers on-line learning for their students, the district must ensure that students with disabilities are provided with their IEP-mandated special education and related services to the extent possible under the on-line model. If services cannot be provided to students with disabilities using the on-line model, the district will need to consider if compensatory services are required once the school reopens. If schools are providing a reduced level of instructional hours, the school district should consider if similar reductions are necessary for the services provided to students with disabilities.

5. Even if schools are closed, IEP teams may conduct meetings using telephone or video conferences. The requirements for meeting participants are not waived, so all regular team members must still be available to participate.

6. Changes in IEPs can be made without a meeting using the DPI form, “Notice of Changes to IEP Without an IEP Meeting.” These changes can include changes of placement if necessary.

7. If a team has initiated an evaluation for a student, the 60-day timeline for completing the evaluation is necessarily extended by the school’s closure. If the IEP team determines that there is enough information already compiled to complete the evaluation, it can be conducted by telephone or video conference, but if additional observations or testing is required, the 60-day deadline may be extended. The same holds true for other deadlines, including the “expiration” date of annual IEPs. The IEP team should schedule a meeting, but if all information needed is not available or if the school district determines that the meeting cannot be suitably conducted by alternative means the deadline for the annual IEP may be extended.

If you wish to dive deeper into this topic, Kristi has compiled the following links, which address special education requirements during school closures. Or you can just contact Kristi at or (608) 821-8217. Kristi continues to represent our clients in their IEP meetings. The Law Center is here to help parents during this difficult time.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Memo dated 3/25/2020

U.S. Department of Education Questions and Answers Sheet

U.S. Office for Civil Rights Facts Sheet 1

U.S. Office for Civil Rights Facts Sheet 2

The Law Center continues to be fully operational as an essential business under Governor Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” Order. We are all working hard, smart, and safe in our new home offices. We are ready and able to continue our work for children and families, without disruption.

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