This page was updated on June 2, 2020.

  1. If a district or charter closes for an extended period of time, must the district provide ESL or bilingual services for English language learners? (posted 3/24/20; updated 6/2/20)
  2. Must a school district that is operating remotely provide language accommodations for ELs in content classes? (posted 6/2/20)
  3. Is there flexibility for completing the 2019-2020 bilingual education and ESL summer school requirements for English learners (ELs) entering kindergarten and grade 1? (posted 5/28/20)
  4. What adjustments to the LPAC responsibilities are available for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year? (posted 4/6/20)
  5. Are LPACs required to complete the identification process within the four calendar weeks of the students’ initial enrollment during school closures? (posted 4/6/20)
  6. Can some grade levels or student groups have different reclassification criteria? (posted 4/6/20; updated 4/8/20)
  7. What assistance is provided to districts who opt to use the LAS Links assessment for reclassification in the 2019-20 school year? (posted 4/8/20)
  8. What if we are unable to complete all four domains of TELPAS? (posted 4/6/20)
  9. May federal funds be used for supplemental pay for districts to have additional assistance with administering the LAS Links Assessment for reclassification purposes? (posted 4/22/20)
  10. May federal funds be used for supplemental hardware or software that is designed specifically for English Learners? (posted 6/2/20)
  11. May Title III funds be used to train teachers to use new online platforms and software designed for ELs? Does that training need to be limited to training EL teachers or may the school district include all teachers who have ELs in their classes? (posted 6/2/20)
  12. If a district or charter provides for students in regular education classes to continue instruction online or through paper packets, must the district or charter also provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) for special education and 504 students? (posted 3/23/20; updated 4/22/20)
  13. Should school districts continue to provide services or conduct evaluation activities during mandatory school closures or shelter in place orders? (posted 3/26/20; updated 5/6/20)
  14. How does the governor’s order to close schools for the remainder of the school year impact district requirements such as sending out notifications about cameras in special education classrooms? (posted 5/6/20)
  15. If a district or charter closes for an extended period of time to address the COVID-19 outbreak, must the district provide services for students protected by IDEA or Section 504? (posted 3/20/20; updated 4/8/20)
  16. How should districts handle situations in which family members do not respond to communications or respond to families who have indicated that they will not be able facilitate the distance learning options being offered? (posted 4/24/20)
  17. Are school districts required to continue services to students identified, and receiving services for dyslexia and currently being served by special education or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973? (posted 4/20/20)
  18. Are districts still required to screen kindergarten students for dyslexia for the 2019-20 school year? (posted 6/1/20)
  19. Is there guidance on providing occupational and physical therapy to students while schools are closed? (posted 4/17/20)
  20. Is there guidance on providing speech language therapy services to students while schools are closed? (posted 4/17/20)
  21. Should school districts continue to provide services to students served by special education who are already receiving homebound services due to a significant health concern? (posted 3/26/20)
  22. Can a school district provide a learning environment at the school or designated site for students who cannot have their learning needs met virtually? (posted 4/8/20)
  23. What flexibility do LEAs have in the process required to adjust an individual student’s existing IEP in times of emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic? (posted 3/23/20)
  24. If a student has been referred for potential special education eligibility and school has closed, are the federal/state required timelines for evaluation still in effect? (posted 3/24/20)
  25. Are school districts still held to the 30 calendar day timeline requirements regarding initial eligibility determination, IEP, and placement decision ARD committee meetings upon completion of a Full and Individual Initial Evaluation in times of emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic? (posted 3/24/20, updated 4/6/20)
  26. Should ARD committees move forward with special education eligibility decisions if a Full and Individual Initial Evaluation (FIIE) has not yet been completed due to concerns over the current COVID-19 pandemic response? (posted 3/26/20)
  27. What if a student’s annual Admission Review and Dismissal (ARD) date is not met due to school closures or other COVID-19 pandemic response related issues? (posted 3/24/20; updated 4/6/20)
  28. What if the members of the ARD committee disagree about an IEP? (posted 4/6/20)
  29. If an ARD committee had begun the process of evaluating a student for exit from special education services prior to school closures, but is not able to complete the evaluation due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic response, are they allowed to move forward with exiting a student without completing the evaluation? (posted 5/8/20)
  30. Is there any guidance on providing extended school year services for special education students? (posted 5/14/20)
  31. What about compensatory services? (posted 5/14/20)
  32. What resources are there to help with supporting at-home Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) intervention? (posted 4/8/20)
  33. If school districts changed their grading system to pass/fail, how will school districts comply with progress reporting requirements for students with IEPs? (posted 4/8/20; updated 4/16/20)

The answers to questions we've compiled do not constitute legal advice. The situation is changing rapidly, and key factors will differ from school district to school district. This information will be updated as new details emerge, but we encourage TCTA members with specific questions to call our staff attorneys at 888-879-8282. Members with general inquiries can submit them through the Ask-a-Lawyer portal.

1. If a district or charter closes for an extended period of time, must the district provide ESL or bilingual services for English Language Learners?

Yes, according to TEA guidance, federal and state law do not provide flexibility on this issue. If schools are closed, but LEAs are providing educational opportunities to the general student population, then they must ensure English language learners have access to the same opportunities. In addition, the school district must ensure that each English language learner is provided services commensurate with the student’s English language proficiency level. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the COVID-19 Outbreak, the department recommends that during remote learning, EL teachers continue to provide instruction to students who were previously in self-contained EL classrooms or in pull-out models. For classes in which ELs participated in mainstream classrooms with both a content teacher and an EL teacher, the EL teacher should continue to collaborate with the content teacher to ensure that the appropriate supports and accommodations are provided to the ELs in that class through remote learning. Additionally, during remote learning, teachers should continue to provide appropriate supports and accommodations to EL students who were previously in mainstream classrooms with only a content teacher to the greatest extent possible.

The department also encourages parents, educators and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of ELs. Consider practices such as remote instruction, phone calls, meetings held on digital platforms, online options for data tracking, and documentation of services, supports, and accommodations provided.

TEA has launched Tips for Families with English Learners social media campaign to support Texas families with English learners at home. Families can visit the Parents and Families page on txel.org for resources and support for their child during school closures caused by COVID-19 in eight different languages.

2. Must a school district that is operating remotely provide language accommodations for ELs in content classes?

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the COVID-19 Outbreak, school districts are required to provide language accommodations for ELs for content classes that are held remotely. Many accommodations may be effectively provided online. These may include, for example, extensions of time for assignments, videos with captioning or embedded interpreting, accessible or translated reading materials, other language services provided through video conferencing, an online translation dictionary, or other technological solutions.

Funds received under the ESSERF or the GEERF of the CARES Act can generally be used for these purposes and are not subject to supplement- not- supplant requirements.

Funds under Title III of ESEA can be used for these purposes as well, provided they do not supplant state, local or other federal funds. For example, if a school district purchases software for high school reading/language arts courses that includes embedded supports for ELs, such as popup translations or images to support instruction, then for those ELs in those courses, this could provide their “core” language instruction educational program (LIEP) due to the embedded supports, and Title III funds could not be used for that software. The school district may, however, choose to supplement, using Title III funds, that coursework with additional online resources and software for ELs or it may wish to add an EL support teacher, using Title III funds, to provide online support or support via telephone calls to students for additional assistance.

3. Is there flexibility for completing the 2019-20 bilingual education and ESL summer school requirements for English learners (ELs) entering kindergarten and grade 1 (Texas Education Code Sec. 29.060; Texas Administrative Code §89.1250)?

Yes, per TEA’s 2019-20 English Learner Summer School Guidance and FAQ (updated 5/27/20), districts are still required to offer 120 hours of instruction that are supplemental to the regular school day/year, but instead of completing these hours in the summer of 2020, they may meet the provisions of this requirement throughout the summer of 2020 and the 2020-21 school year. The program is required to be staffed by teachers appropriately certified for the bilingual/ESL program (TAC §89.1250 (3)(E)).

Districts may:

  • complete the EL summer school requirement prior to the beginning of the 2020-21 school year,
  • begin EL summer school in summer of 2020 and complete the 120 hours of instruction (supplemental to the regular school day) throughout the 2020-21 school year, or
  • complete the 120 hours of instruction (supplemental to the regular school day) during the 2020-21 school year. Note: “Supplemental to the regular school day” may include before or after school hours, weekends, or during any LEA incremental breaks within a year-round schedule.

For more guidance on summer school for English learners, see our COVID-19 FAQ on Future Education Issues.

4. What adjustments to the LPAC responsibilities are available for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year?

According to TEA's April 2 TELPAS/LPAC guidance, the LPAC may use the following provisions:

  • Alternative meeting methods, such as
    • Phone or video conferencing
    • Use of electronic signatures that adhere with school district policy
  • Optional LPAC parent representation (although highly encouraged)
  • Extended timeline for determining English learner reclassification through the first 30 calendar days of the 2020-21 school year.
    • The extended timeline for the first 30 calendar days begins when the school district resumes school for all students for the 2020-21 school year.
    • If the school district is unable to complete the reclassification process within the extended timeline in the fall, the LPAC documents the reasons for which the timeline was extended, including the plan for completing the process in a timely manner.
    • If feasible and allowable per public health facts, the school district may choose to continue the English learner reclassification process during the summer, prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, as needed.

For more, see TEA's April 17 English Learner Guidance (TELPAS and LPAC).

5. Are LPACs required to complete the identification process within the four calendar weeks of the students’ initial enrollment during school closures?

According to TEA’s English Learner Guidance (updated April 2), school districts can do the following:

  • If the student has already been assessed using the appropriate LAS Links/pre-LAS assessment prior to school closure and results are available, the LPAC may be able to meet through alternative meeting methods (phone or video conference) in order to complete the identification. The participation of the LPAC parent is optional through the end of this school year. If the student is identified by the LPAC, the student’s parent is notified of identification, and parental approval may be obtained in writing or through an email or documented phone conversation. If the LPAC cannot meet, the LEA will resume the identification process once the LEA resumes to finish out the semester or during the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.
  • If the student has not yet been assessed for English proficiency using LAS Links/pre-LAS assessment, the identification process will resume once the LEA resumes to finish out the semester or during the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

6. Can some grade levels or student groups have different reclassification criteria?

According to TEA’s April 2 TELPAS/LPAC guidance, a school district must determine a consistent plan for determining reclassification criteria. This plan may include differences in reclassification criteria for some students based on their situation. For example, in one grade level at a campus, half of the students completed all four domains of TELPAS prior to school closure, and half of the grade level did not. In this case, the students with completed TELPAS will use TELPAS, whereas those who did not may need to default to LAS Links if the remaining TELPAS domains cannot be completed (keeping in mind that LAS Links would only then be administered to those with potential for reclassification). Another reason for differences in reclassification criteria among student groups may be due to differences in feasibility for completing TELPAS, such as the completion of holistic ratings for grade 1 versus online testing and writing sample collections in grades 2-12.

According to TEA’s TELPAS and LPAC Guidance (updated April 7), the school district’s plan for reclassification criteria should be based on the individual student’s situation. If a student has all four domains of TELPAS completed, he or she should NOT take LAS Links simply because other students did not complete TELPAS. Over-assessment of students is not a recommended practice. Providing the option to use LAS Links is only available to ensure that students with potential for reclassification have access to demonstrate English proficiency when TELPAS cannot be completed in all four domains. TELPAS and LAS Links scores cannot be combined. The Revised English Learner Reclassification Chart provides the specific levels needed for meeting reclassification criteria using either assessment.

7. What assistance is provided to districts who opt to use the LAS Links assessment for reclassification in the 2019-20 school year?

According to TEA’s TELPAS and LPAC Guidance (updated April 7), school districts can score the assessments locally or they can choose to send DRC the assessments to be scored for a fee. If school districts choose to have DRC score the assessments for reclassification, their local funds or Bilingual Education Allotment funds can pay for such scoring. Also, it would be an allowable expense to use Title III, Part A-ELA funds to have DRC score the pre-LAS/LAS Links assessments for reclassification of English learners in the 2019-20 school year. Visit the Texas-dedicated LAS Links website for information on scoring by DRC.

8. What if we are unable to complete all four domains of TELPAS?

According to TEA’s April 2 TELPAS/LPAC guidance, the English Language Proficiency Assessment component of the reclassification criteria cannot be fulfilled with partial TELPAS data. If all four domains of the 2019-20 TELPAS cannot be completed, the LEA may administer the LAS Links Assessment only to English learners who are potential for reclassification with an extended testing window through the first 30 calendar days of the 2020-21 school year (grade 1: listening and speaking; grades 2-12: listening, speaking, reading and writing). It is important to note that TELPAS and LAS Links scores cannot be combined to meet reclassification criteria.

9. May federal funds be used for supplemental pay for districts to have additional assistance with administering the LAS Links Assessment for reclassification purposes?

According to TEA’s April 21 Federal Funding and Grants FAQ, districts can pay extra duty pay for teachers administering the LAS Links assessment (to be used for reclassification only for the 2019-20 school year) using their local funds, Bilingual Education Allotment (BEA) funds. Also, it would be an allowable expense to use Title III, Part A-ELA funds only for the 2019-20 school year. Please note: teachers administering the LAS Link assessments should be appropriately trained.

10. May federal funds be used for supplemental hardware or software that is designed specifically for English Learners?

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the COVID-19 Outbreak, a school district may use Title III funds for supplemental hardware or software that is designed specifically for ELs (e.g., software to provide language accessibility features or tools) and that supplement the LIEP.

11. May Title III funds be used to train teachers to use new online platforms and software designed for ELs? Does that training need to be limited to training EL teachers or may the school district include all teachers who have ELs in their classes?

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Fact Sheet: Providing Services to English Learners During the COVID-19 Outbreak, a school district may use Title III funds for teacher training if it is specific to EL needs. The training could include all teachers if it is geared toward meeting the needs of ELs or if it relates to software or embedded supports for ELs. However, if the training is for the same online platform that all teachers will use for all classes, and does not address EL needs, then the use of Title III funds for such training would be not be permitted, as it would be supplanting, rather than supplementing, other available funding sources.

12. If a district or charter provides for students in regular education classes to continue instruction online or through paper packets, must the district or charter also provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) for special education and 504 students?

The U.S. Department of Education issued a clarification to the field on March 21, 2020, about district/charter duties regarding providing FAPE for special education students if the district/charter continues to offer instruction to students via online instruction. 

According to USDE, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. “While some schools might choose to safely, and in accordance with state law, provide certain IEP services to some students in person, it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some institutions, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services. Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

USDE also noted that “where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services — or even making decisions about how to provide services — IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020, guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.

Although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud.

Additionally, TEA provided in a March 20, 2020, Updated Q&A on Special Education Services that:

“If there are services, accommodations, and modifications required by the student’s IEP that cannot be provide during this time, the student’s ARD committee must determine which services it can provide to meet the student’s needs (34 CFR 300.324(a)(4). Changes in services and accommodations may be made through the IEP amendment process. In many cases, instructional accommodations may be met in an online environment by providing additional supports, such as individualized telephone or video conferencing. LEAs should consider how current accommodations and modifications are provided in a physical classroom setting (i.e. extra time, redirection, small group, among others) and what this would look like in a virtual environment.”

TEA also stated that if a school district/charter school “cannot provide services necessary for the provision of FAPE in either a face to face or virtual environment, the LEA should document carefully what services were not able to be provided to each individual student. This documentation must be detailed enough to enable the ARD committee to later make determinations regarding what compensatory services need to be provided to individual students. LEAs should plan for effective communication with families regarding any services that cannot be provided during the COVID 19 pandemic response.”

On April 22, TEA provided a new resource, Considerations for Selecting Online Education Platforms for Special Populations, and noted that teachers should do their best to incorporate a mix of instructional strategies and not rely on one online platform. In addition, teachers should consider robust discussions and collaborative work via chats and virtual meetings, video and audio clips, and hands-on exercises completed either together or individually.

More information and TCTA’s compilation of resources for teaching students with disabilities online can be viewed here.

13. How should districts handle situations in which family members do not respond to communications or respond to families who have indicated that they will not be able facilitate the distance learning options being offered?

On April 23, TEA included in its COVID-19 Special Education Q&A that districts should document all communication with families, including unsuccessful attempts to reach the family. Attempts should be made using multiple communication channels if necessary, and in the method and language most accessible to the individual family.

TEA also notes that districts should carefully document all communication with families where they have indicated that they are not able to, or unwilling to, facilitate distance learning options. In these situations, districts should carefully consider whether practical barriers to participation have been removed to the extent possible. Districts still maintain a responsibility to provide FAPE. ARD committees should convene once schools reopen to consider any need for compensatory, or additional services.

14. Should school districts continue to provide services, or conduct evaluation activities during mandatory school closures or shelter in place orders?

According to TEA’s March 26 Updated COVID-19 and Special Education in Texas Q&A, school districts (LEAs) should comply with all statewide or local orders. This includes but is not limited to school closures and shelter in place orders. As with all decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic response, school staff will want to prioritize actions based on health and safety first, communication with staff and families, and then consider requirements of IDEA and state law regarding special education.

According to TEA’s COVID-19 Special Education Q&A (updated 5/5/20), Gov. Abbott’s April 27th order ending mandatory stay at home restrictions does not change statewide school closure requirements; therefore, districts may not start performing face-to-face evaluations.

15. How does the governor’s order to close schools for the remainder of the school year impact district requirements such as sending out notifications about cameras in special education classrooms?

According to TEA’s COVID-19 Special Education Q&A (updated 5/5/20), for scenarios such as this where a particular task is due to be completed on a timeline connected to the end of the school year, LEAs should consider the last day of school as indicated on their published 2019-20 school year calendar as the last day of school.

16. If a district or charter closes for an extended period of time to address the COVID-19 outbreak, must the district provide services for students protected by IDEA or Section 504?

According to the U.S. Department of Education:

The IDEA, Section 504, and Title II of the ADA do not specifically address a situation in which elementary and secondary schools are closed for an extended period of time (generally more than 10 consecutive days) because of exceptional circumstances, such as an outbreak of a particular disease.

If a local education agency closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then an LEA would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time. Once school resumes, the LEA must make every effort to provide special education and related services to the child in accordance with the child’s individualized education program (IEP) or, for students entitled to FAPE under Section 504, consistent with a plan developed to meet the requirements of Section 504. 

TEA has provided additional guidance regarding special education services. Click here to view it.

17. Are school districts required to continue services to students identified, and receiving services for dyslexia and currently being served by special education or under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973? 

According to TEA’s April 16 COVID-19 Special Education Q&A, the answer is yes. As described in the March 12 guidance from OSEP, school districts must make reasonable efforts to provide a free and appropriate public education to students served by special education or served under section 504 even in extreme circumstances such as the current COVID-19 pandemic response. School districts who are not able to provide the necessary level of services for any reason, should document carefully what should have been provided and was not to allow for effective decisions regarding compensatory services to be made by ARD committees and Section 504 teams when the situation gets back to normal.

On April 9, Gov. Greg Abbott waived restrictions related to teletherapy for dyslexia therapists holding licensure through the Texas Department of Licensure and Regulation. Therefore, school districts should be advised that there are no state or federal requirements that preclude the provision of dyslexia services to students in a virtual environment. While the 2018 Dyslexia Handbook indicates that computer programs should not be used as the primary method of delivery for dyslexia instruction, dyslexia services or therapy delivered by appropriately trained staff in a virtual classroom environment are not “computer programs.”

On April 23, TEA clarified in its COVID-19 Special Education Q&A that up to 20% of a districts HB 3 dyslexia funds can be spent to contract with a private provider to provide supplemental academic services.

18. Are districts still required to screen kindergarten students for dyslexia for the 2019-20 school year?

Given school closures in Texas, Gov. Abbott has waived the required kindergarten dyslexia screening for the 2019-20 school year. Emergency Commissioner’s rule TAC §74.1101 is currently in effect and describes the requirements of the governor’s waiver. Required screening of first grade students was not impacted by school closings associated with the COVID-19 pandemic response and therefore, was not waived.

19. Is there guidance on providing occupational and physical therapy to students while schools are closed?

TEA notes that districts should identify and acknowledge service delivery limitations, while they make and document reasonable efforts to provide students eligible for special education with a Free and Appropriate Public Education. This requirement to “make every effort…” or “make a reasonable effort” does not allow a LEA to decline all services to students eligible for special education and only offer compensatory services at a later time.

TEA has provided Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Guidance (4/16/20) on how to most effectively move these services to an indirect, consultative model of service delivery in which families/caregivers may implement services.

20. Is there guidance on providing speech language therapy services to students while schools are closed?

TEA has provided Speech Language Therapy Services Guidance (4/16/20) to help Speech-Language Pathologists continue delivering services to students through remote learning or telepractice.

21. Should school districts continue to provide services to students served by special education who are already receiving homebound services due to a significant health concern?

According to TEA’s March 26 Updated COVID-19 and Special Education in Texas Q&A, school districts (LEAs) should prioritize the health and safety of students, staff, and communities in all decisions regarding service provision. As with all other situations, there may be options available to provide instructional and related services to students receiving homebound services leveraging technology and other more nontraditional methods. Reasonable efforts should be made to provide students with FAPE and LEAs should carefully document what was not able to be provided during the COVID 19 pandemic response. This documentation must be detailed enough to enable the ARD committee to later make determinations regarding what compensatory services need to be provided to individual students. LEAs should plan for effective communication with families regarding any services that cannot be provided during the COVID-19 pandemic response.

22. Can a school district provide a learning environment at the school or designated site for students who cannot have their learning needs met virtually?

According to TEA’s COVID-19 Special Education Q&A (updated April 7), the TEA Special Education Task Force is considering whether students can be served in a non-virtual setting without violating any applicable governor orders or local shelter-in-place orders. Further guidance will be provided at a later time.

23. What flexibility do LEAs have in the process required to adjust an individual student’s existing IEP in times of emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

According to TEA, if it is determined that an IEP needs to be changed or adjusted, school districts/charters “should continue to follow local policies. The ARD committee may meet by teleconference or other means (if all members are able) to determine if some, or all, of the identified services can be provided through alternate or additional methods. Once the school reopens, the ARD committee must determine whether, and to what extent, compensatory services are needed. As stated earlier, if a school district is providing educational opportunities to the general student population, the district also is required to provide the services and accommodations needed for students with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in the virtual model of delivery. School boards might consider reviewing their local policies regarding the allowable process to amend an IEP without convening the full ARD committee in specific circumstances (TASB EHBAB (LOCAL)). Changes to these policies could be enacted locally on a temporary basis as part of the current COVID-19 pandemic response to allow for a broader local application of the amendment process allowed by IDEA. Any specific change to local policy must still comply with federal and state law, and strong, timely communication with families regarding any such changes is imperative.”

24. If a student has been referred for potential special education eligibility and school has closed, are the federal/state required timelines for evaluation still in effect?

According to TEA’s March 20, 2020, Special Education guidance:

Local school districts (LEAs) should also consider ways to use distance technology to the extent possible to provide child find, hold initial and annual ARD committee meetings, and/or evaluation/eligibility meetings, if the LEA members and parents are available but not able to attend in person. Continuing to complete ARD committee and evaluation/eligibility meetings will help decrease the workload when school resumes. If required members of the committee and/or parents are not available or believe their participation is impacted by the lack of an in-person meeting, LEAs should document the reason and complete the activity in a timely manner following the ending of school closures.

In situations in which LEAs are “Closed, Preparing” or “Closed, Temporary,” state evaluation timelines halt as these timelines are based on school days. In situations in which LEAs are “Closed, Instructing” or “Open,” the 45 school-day timeline requirements of Texas Education Code sec. 29.004 apply (see the March 25 School Finance Q&A).

On March 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights published this fact sheet acknowledging that evaluations might be delayed due to issues related to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

25. Are school districts still held to the 30 calendar day timeline requirements regarding initial eligibility determination, IEP, and placement decision ARD committee meetings upon completion of a Full and Individual Initial Evaluations in times of emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic?

According to TEA, the answer is yes. Requirements related to the 30 calendar day timeline for initial eligibility determination, IEP, and placement decision ARD committee meetings still apply. The ARD committee may meet by teleconference or other means (if all members are able) when necessary, to meet this required timeline. (Click here for more.)

TEA expanded upon this in its April 2 ARD Committee Considerations During COVID-19 as follows:

If there are deviations from legally established timelines, school districts should communicate with parents/guardians and document in the student’s folder all reasonable efforts made to follow timelines.

  • If the timeline has passed for an initial ARD committee meeting and related decisions, plan to hold the meeting as soon as possible, following the above guidance.
  • It is not recommended to hold an initial ARD committee meeting for the purposes of making eligibility determinations based on an incomplete or inconclusive initial FIE due to a lack of face-to-face testing opportunities.

Until normal school operations resume, LEAs should review the evaluations currently in process and/or initiated but not completed by having teams of qualified professionals determine the following:

  • Which, if any, of the components of the evaluation have been completed and/or initiated.
  • If any components of the evaluation can be completed remotely or without face-to-face interaction during COVID-19 response.
  • If there are segments that the team has determined can be completed remotely, plan to discuss with the parents/guardians in order to:
    • Develop a plan with the parents/guardians if determined completion of the evaluation must be delayed until normal operation resumes. Plan should reflect completing the FIIE as soon as possible.
  • Document communication to parents/guardians regarding the plan for FIIE completion when normal operations resume.
  • Consider what additional general education interventions and supports may be initiated for the student based on the suspected disability(ies) or evaluation information collected thus far. Create a plan to provide intervention and ensure they are carefully documented by the evaluation team.
  • Promptly notify the parent/guardian if some portions of the evaluation can be completed without face-to-face interaction if the parent/guardian consents.
  • Develop a plan with the parent/guardian on how best to obtain the above-mentioned information.
  • Carefully document all stages of this process, from the receipt of initial consent to what remains for completion in order to finish the FIIE as required.

26. Should ARD committees move forward with special education eligibility decisions if a Full and Individual Initial Evaluation (FIIE) has not yet been completed due to concerns over the current COVID-19 pandemic response?

According to TEA’s March 26 Updated COVID-19 and Special Education in Texas Q&A, the answer is no.

Special education eligibility determinations for students should not be made without consideration of all relevant data points that would be provided in an FIIE. Eligibility decisions, and any subsequent IEP development decisions require consideration of all relevant data in order to ensure that sound decisions are made in the best interest of the student. LEAs should continue to provide all appropriate general education interventions and supports to struggling students while they are going through the referral process and eligibility determinations are being made. To reiterate what is stated elsewhere in this document, LEA and school staff will want to prioritize decisions and actions based on health and safety first, communication with staff and families, and then consider requirements of IDEA and state law.

TEA expanded on this in its April 2 Evaluation Considerations During COVID-19, in which it provides a table to serve as a resource to assist school districts in thinking through various areas of evaluations (initial and re-evaluations) that could potentially be completed remotely.

TEA provided additional COVID-19 Special Education guidance on April 23 for how school districts should document services when an FIIE cannot be completed:

“Campuses should have teams that convene to discuss individual student progress in their respective intervention programs. General education interventions and services for students that are in the referral process but not yet determined eligible to receive special education services should be discussed, documented, and monitored by this group.”

27. What if a student’s annual Admission Review and Dismissal (ARD) date is not met due to school closures or other COVID-19 pandemic response related issues?

According to TEA, if there are deviations from legally established timelines, school districts should document in the student’s folder all reasonable efforts made to follow timelines. (Click here for more.)

TEA expanded on this in its April 2 ARD Committee Considerations During COVID-19, in which it provided that if there are deviations from legally established timelines, school districts should communicate with parents/guardians and document in the student’s folder all reasonable efforts made to follow timelines.

  • If the timeline has passed for an annual meeting, plan to hold the meeting as soon as possible, following the above guidance.
  • The ARD committee meeting can be broken into two discussion areas:
    • The first section would be reflective of which support and services provide FAPE when the student is physically at school.
    • The second section can reflect what FAPE looks like during “at home Learning” during the COVID-19 response. An ending date would not be required, but documentation would clearly state that the COVID-19 response plan is temporary and will cease to be in effect once students are able to return to school facilities.

28. What if the members of the ARD committee disagree about an IEP?

According to TEA’s April 2 ARD Committee Considerations During COVID-19, if the ARD committee finds disagreement on a required element of an IEP related to how support and services should take place during at-home learning, proceed as you typically would by offering a 10-day recess and scheduling a reconvene meeting.

Signatures of agreement or disagreement on an IEP may not be possible for all attendees because of the virtual nature of the meeting.

  • Plan to communicate with all virtual attendees how you will document agreement or disagreement on the signature page.
  • Clearly document any member agreements or disagreements in the deliberations of the ARDC.
  • If parent email is provided as an option for agreements and disagreements, parents/guardians should receive a copy of the documentation used to register their signatures and agreement or disagreement.

29. If an ARD committee had begun the process of evaluating a student for exit from special education services prior to school closures, but is not able to complete the evaluation due to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic response, are they allowed to move forward with exiting a student without completing the evaluation?

According to TEA's COVID-19 Special Education Q&A (updated 5/7/20), the committee is not allowed to exit a student without a complete evaluation. Federal regulations [34 CFR sec. 300.305(e)] require the district to evaluate the student in accordance with IDEA’s evaluation procedures before determining whether the student is no longer a student with a disability. Thus, the decisions to exit the student from special education services must be informed by a complete evaluation of all relevant areas of student performance. Once school resumes, the ARD committee may continue the evaluation process and make determinations about an exit from services once all the relevant information has been collected.

30. Is there any guidance on providing extended school year services for special education students?

Yes. TEA issued Compensatory Services and Extended School Year Guidance on May 14. According to the guidance, extended school year (ESY) services are required only if the ARD committee determines and documents in the IEP that, in one or more critical areas addressed in the current IEP goals and objectives, the student has exhibited, or reasonably may be expected to exhibit, severe or substantial regression that cannot be recouped within a reasonable period of time. In Texas, severe and substantial regression means that the student has been, or will be, unable to maintain one or more acquired critical skills in the absence of ESY services. Find more information about compensatory services and ESY guidance in our FAQ on future education issues.

31. What about compensatory services? 

According to TEA's Compensatory Services and Extended School Year Guidance (5/14/20), compensatory services provide a student with a disability the educational services needed to make up for skills or learning that have been lost when services described in an IEP were not provided. Per TEA, given the uncertainty about what regular school operations will look like in the near future and in light of the fact that school districts have continued to provide some level of instruction and services to students throughout the closure of physical school buildings, an ARD committee may in some circumstances consider whether it makes sense to move forward with determinations either virtually or in person over the summer months.

ARD committees considering the provision of compensatory services remotely should carefully consider how effective remote services have been for individual students thus far and make adjustments to delivery methods and supports to ensure that the most effective services possible are provided to individual students. Find more information about compensatory services and ESY guidance in our FAQ on future education issues.

32. What resources are there to help with supporting at-home Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Intervention?

TEA released a Multi-tiered System of Support Intervention Framework on April 7 that consists of Guiding Questions for Educators Providing MTSS Intervention, addressing the following topics: academic support, behavioral support, delivery and progress monitoring/documenting. According to the framework, “the primary focus of at home intervention support should be continued practice at the student’s current levels and solidifying requisite skills needed to continue progress toward MTSS intervention goals.”

33. If school districts changed their grading system to pass/fail, how will school districts comply with progress reporting requirements for students with IEPs?

According to TEA’s April 7 COVID-19 Special Education Q&A, school districts should make all reasonable efforts to comply with the requirements of individual students’ IEPs. Districts should develop a plan and expectations created with input from an individual student’s parents for how progress monitoring toward IEP goals will be conducted, documented and communicated. As is always the case, effective and regular communication with families is imperative. School districts may document changes to progress reporting processes during the COVID-19 pandemic response. For more information, click here

On April 14, TEA provided additional information on best practices in on Progress Monitoring for special education students, and in measuring the effectiveness of academic and behavioral interventions

According to TEA’s April 14 Providing Counseling as a Related Service, documentation and data will be critical for Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committees to review once traditional schooling resumes. Be sure to keep progress monitoring notes in relation to the skills and goals that you are working on.

  • Document the student’s skills and progress prior to the school closure (what was the most recent progress update/ information from your counseling notes and/or IEP goal progress updates?)
  • Keep detailed records of the services that were provided and reasons for any missed services or deviations from the Service Delivery Plan
  • Document student progress regularly. Be prepared to compare the progress from prior to school closure to progress during remote services.
  • Keep the following in mind:
  • It is possible that the student may show new behaviors due to the stress of school closure or regress on goals already mastered. Document these changes in behaviors and skills.
  • For some students with school anxiety or refusal, progress or reduction of anxiety/behavior may be observed/reported. Document these observations, as this will be needed for any school reentry plans that may be necessary once school resumes. For students with a history of school refusal and/or anxiety around school, the long break from traditional school may create the need for a reentry plan.

Related information: See our FAQ on Instruction During School Closures.

Click here to return to the main COVID-19 FAQ page.