Special Education Distance Learning Resources

In this moment of crisis, our responsibility for each and every student has never been greater. That's why we're providing resources that can help schools address students with disabilities' needs when planning distance learning. Though no plan is perfect at the onset, these resources may be helpful in ensuring that disabled students' needs are appropriately met when conducting distance learning.

Delivery of Special Education Services
Creating Your Framework
Planning with your Team
Resources and Webinars

Delivery of Special Education Services

In response to the physical closure of schools around the country in March, the US Department of Education and CA Department of Education (CDE) reminded schools that fear of imperfect solutions should not prevent instruction for any. In an April 9th update, the CDE gave some more specific guidance regarding services and IEP meetings. We believe this guidance calls all schools, including charters, to leverage the strengths of your community to 1) provide remote learning opportunities for all students and 2) provide the most effective services possible for your students with disabilities.

During this time, CCSA is prioritizing 1) sharing the most updated State and Federal guidance, 2) giving high level guidance for schools and 3) advocating for flexibilities that are responsive to the needs of charter schools.

There are many paths forward and while hesitation is understandable, the State and Federal policy makers have called you to create the best plan possible for each student. The purpose of this document is to provide a framework that is intentional and operational at your school sites.  As you consider the intent of the IDEA, the following components are meant as a resource and guide to develop your framework:

Creating Your Framework

We recommend drafting an overarching framework that can be shared, and that can be referenced once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, outlining the underlying principles that will guide your decisions related to both service delivery and compliance for students with disabilities.  Every school will have a plan that is unique to them, and a strategy for engaging students and parents in a way that is responsive to their unique populations.  We recommend being intentional in your framework now and share it with parents, so that there is no question of your intent to do the right things by students.

We recommend a framework with four components:

  1. A statement about your commitment to serve every child in an individualized way aligned with the protections outlined in the IDEA, while also considering the limitations resulting from the current public health crisis;
  1. A statement about the range of expertise on your staff and related partners. Describe expertise of your staff, across your partners and/or vendor community. Let parents and your community know you are creatively deploying resources and expertise that includes the non public agencies and other DIS providers. We acknowledge that this may require some changes to existing master contracts, but your attempts at engaging as much expertise in this moment should be shared out.
  1. A high-level statement about services and meetings specific to your organization:
    1. Share which services you can provide utilizing your staff (in current or reimagined roles) and outside vendors.
    2. Share which services you are not able to provide during the transition to distance learning and your plan to address this when the crisis is over.
    3. Share the format of IEP meetings during this time. Also share how you are prioritizing those meetings if needed

    Notes about this section: Engage with families in a way that is sensitive to the challenges they are facing. This can be done using the framework we provide.  In addition, you may opt to use a blanket Prior Written Notice as well.  Regardless, schools should emphasize that changes will be developed on an individualized basis, in collaboration with the IEP teams, and in compliance with State and Federal law.
  1. Share a protocol for fielding parent concerns. In the event that parents are not satisfied with the services that they have received; you may want to directly ask parents to request an IEP meeting or mediation prior to filing for due process. Doing this will give the IEP team the best opportunity to directly engage in good faith in order to resolve disputes. 

Planning with your Team

Serving each and every child via distance learning will necessitate thoughtful and collaborative planning. The questions below are meant to support your planning process. Some questions may help you articulate the values and school specific context that will live in your framework and some will help you make detailed implementation decisions.

  • Who makes up your special education team? What strengths do they bring?
  • Do you have partnerships with Non-public schools and Agencies NPS/As? While the guidance at the State level clearly stated that they are still to be paid, how are you engaging them in a way that leverages their expertise in your distance learning model? Do they have personnel that could help provide remote service minutes or a new service entirely?  (this may require discussions and modifications to existing agreements)
  • What trainings, resources, and advice are offered by your SELPA?
  • What barriers will your students face in accessing your school’s distance learning delivery method? This will vary by the size of your programs, the range of various disabilities represented in your population, and the scope of resources available to you to work with.
  • How many students can continue to receive all or some of their supports as before? What needs can be met by virtually providing similar push-in or pull-out support? Can work be modified in the same way as it was in the classroom?
  • What services do your students need that are more difficult to provide virtually? Who is planning for how to address those? Be intentional about assigning your staff
  • Are there student needs that were specific to working in the classroom environment that are no longer a concern? What new concerns arise for students in the distance learning model?
  • With the intent of the IDEA in mind, how will you communicate with families about the changes in service for their students given distance learning? Remember to prioritize relationships in your communication and solutions.
  • Can you hold virtual meetings? What will be the platform? Is it easily accessible on phones?
  • How will you communicate the new format for meetings with parents? Give them the opportunity to agree to this new format or offer a different suggestion.
  • What is the capacity of your staff? Can you assign any staff to be solely focused on mapping the scope of existing IEP needs between now and the end of the year and making a plan?  Can you group the various types of IEP meetings needed? Can you create a schedule of those that are crucial to hold now vs. those that can be held a little later?
  • Do you have assessments that are completed and just need to be finalized in a meeting? Can you hold the initial IEP meeting virtually?
  • Don’t abandon your commitment to inclusion—it is an important value and asset at this moment. Include information about your commitment to inclusive practices.
  • When will your Special Education team meet? How will different members bring ideas and solutions for the different strands of responsibility needed right now? Who is leading this team and the successful pivot to distance learning?
  • When will your Special Ed team meet with general education teachers? How often?
  • Who will hold responsibility for providing accommodations and modifying lessons and assignments?
  • Do you have any services that are already virtual or could be done virtually?
  • How will you document minutes served and needed to be served later? Can you continue to use the same system you had, or does it need to be modified given that even the team will be working remotely? How will you communicate these with families?
  • Could services be provided during live online instruction? Could services be provided during or after recorded instruction? Do services need to happen before or after recorded instruction?

Resources and Webinars

  1. Federal and State Resources and Guidance
  2. Educator Resources to Support Remote Learning
  3. Wyoming Instructional Network offers a list of important factors to consider when planning from student executive functioning to the creative use of schedules
  4. Tips and ideas from CA charter leaders
  5. Download the most up-to-date CCSA Distance Learning: Framework for the Delivery of Special Education Services document 
In this webinar, hear the latest guidance from our State Director of Special Education, and directly from leaders and special education directors as they share successes and how they overcome challenges to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are met during COVID-19 closures.


If you have any questions regarding special education distance learning and the charter school community, please reach out to info@ccsa.org so we may better support you.