Masks Required at School – What About Kids with Disabilities?

Recently, we have been receiving inquiries from parents who are worried that their children with disabilities won’t be able to go back to school because of the new mask mandate issued by Governor DeWine.  The order requires all students in grades K-12 to wear a mask at school.  But, as we all know, there is a fairly small group of students who, because of their disabilities, simply cannot wear a mask all day, if at all.   Governor DeWine’s mandate specifically exempts these students:

  • any child unable to remove the face covering without assistance,
  • a child with significant behavioral/psychological issue undergoing treatment that is exacerbated specifically by the use of a mask,
  • a child living with severe autism or extreme developmental delay who may become agitated or anxious due to the mask, and
  • a child with a facial deformity where a mask will cause airway obstruction.

There is a lot of talk about masks for persons with asthma, but you’ll notice that asthma alone is not a qualifier.  In a joint letter from Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, which the Governor references, it states, “Specifically, asthma, allergies and sinus infections are not a contraindication for using a face covering/mask.”  That is not to say that someone with asthma couldn’t qualify for an exemption based on one of the scenarios itemized above.

If you believe your child falls into one of the exemptions provided by the Governor, reach out to a school administrator right away.  Tell them

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Soon, the School May be Able to Change Your Child’s Placement Without Your Consent – Act Now to Prevent This Proposed Change to the Ohio Rules

The Ohio Department of Education has proposed a slew of revisions to the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC), several of which will negatively impact students with disabilities.

The most alarming change proposed is the removal of a school district’s obligation to obtain parental consent before changing a student’s educational placement (OAC 3301-51-05). If the rule is adopted as written, a school district can transfer a student to the more restrictive environment of a private school, even if the parents oppose that decision. The school district can also remove a student from an outside environment, bringing them back to their home school, a much less restrictive environment, without parental approval.  Change of placement does not always involve a separate facility; it can also include moving a student from general education classes with supports, to a self-contained classroom in the same building, with no typical peers.   This is a big deal!

A second, huge change is the addition of the term “Educational Agency”(OAC Chapter 3301-51-01).  It looks as though all “Educational Agencies” are now responsible for much of what used to be the exclusive responsibility of the school district:  child find, evaluations, IEPs, etc.  The term “Educational Agency” does include school districts, but it also includes Educational Service Centers, DD Boards, open enrollment school districts, juvenile justice facilities and potentially multiple other agencies that “provide or seek to provide special education.”  The definition itself is very unclear as to which agencies it encompasses, and the substitution of this definition for school district in

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What’s It Going to Be? Yes or No?

It is the question that’s been on my mind as summer quickly skates by, are these kids going back to school in August? Yes or No?

It’s much easier to manage life when we know exactly what we’re dealing with, and, as parents, we want answers. If our children are going to be at home, schooling remotely, we have to rearrange our own work schedules or find someone reliable who can care for them. It’s frustrating to not have answers, and we want to know so we can come to terms with it and P L A N!

Keep in mind that as overwhelming as it may seem for our little families, of three or five or even seven people, imagine the logistics involved in planning for an entire school district of thousands of children, families, staff members, teachers and unions. All with different needs, health backgrounds, belief systems and political affiliations. With all the moving parts and an endless barrage of opinions being thrust about on social media, the long-awaited guidance from the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Health and even the American Academy of Pediatrics has been reduced to writing. It still leaves a lot of leeway for each district to make its own decisions based on their own circumstances and our school administrators have a tough job ahead of them for sure!

We can share our opinions with the decision-makers, but the bottom line is that we don’t have control over what this

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What?! Now Graduation is Cancelled??

The Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education have issued a joint statement which basically wipes out the idea of a traditional graduation ceremony for our high school seniors, and college seniors as well.  We feared this might happen, but now it’s real.  I named my children for this moment…their high school graduation when the principal carefully annunciates their full name – first, middle and last—so regal-sounding,  in front of their peers, teachers, administrators, and proud family members who are hooting and hollering (just like all the other families, despite being told to hold all applause!).  Okay, well maybe I didn’t pick their names just for graduation, but I definitely thought about how it would sound as they crossed that stage.  When else do we use their full name other than when we’re yelling at them?!  And now, due to the pandemic, that long awaited moment will not come to fruition.  Instead, we may be attending a virtual graduation or watch a masked, gloved administrator hand them their diploma through the car window like an order at McDonalds (minus the fries).   As the mom of a current high school senior, the graduation cancellation hit hard.  I was particularly looking forward to my son’s graduation because, for the first months of his life when he was in the NICU, I wasn’t sure he would graduate.  And for the first few years of elementary school, when he needed loft strand crutches to walk, I wasn’t sure he’d be able

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Defining a Student’s Legal Rights to Special Ed During COVID-19

This is an unbelievable time. We are embarking on uncharted territory as COVID-19 affects everything from small businesses, to taxes, elections, sporting events, and even the supply and demand of toilet paper. With mandated school closures across Ohio and much of the country, families, administrators, and lawmakers are scrambling to put procedures together and are trying to figure out what this means for our special education students. As with most important social issues, there are strong voices on both sides.

US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’S GUIDANCE
The US Department of Education has issued several documents, regarding the applicability of a public school’s obligation to provide a FAPE and deliver IEP/504 Plan services during the pendency of this global crisis. Here are some of the main points:

  • If a school closes and is NOT providing ANY educational services to any of its students (general education or special education), then they are NOT required to provide services to students on IEPs/504 plans. If a student with disabilities doesn’t receive services for “an extended period of time,” the team must determine if compensatory services are appropriate.
  • IEP/504 teams are NOT required to meet in person while schools are closed. 
  • Evaluations that must be done in person should be delayed until school reopens. If the evaluations don’t need to be done in person, they can take place during school closure if the parent consents. 

Click here for USDOE’s fact sheet.

COPAA’s OPPOSITION
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), a non-profit group whose

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Special Education in the Midst of COVID-19

We find ourselves in unprecedented times, with schools closed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It can be overwhelming and uncertain, but as your trusted advocate, I am here to help guide you through the process and provide the best information I can.

Here is what I can tell you right now.

  1. This has never happened before, so we all need to take a pause and figure out how we can tackle this together.
  2. There is no ‘one size fits all’ plan, or specific answers regarding your child’s IEP.
  3. Each school response or plan for education while closed will vary. Some schools are on an extended spring break, others are offering a digital platform or support via telephone or Skype, and some have implemented specialized curriculum-based instructional activities.
  4. You should not demand extra services, but you can and should ask for them if your child needs them to access the educational platform that is being provided to all students. As an initial first step, email your child’s teacher asking how to support your child’s educational needs while he or she is at home.
  5. Remember you are not alone.

Right now, there are many questions and not a lot of answers, because this has never happened before. So, let’s all take a pause and figure out how we can tackle this together. My role is to be your trusted guide, keeping you informed regarding procedure while focusing on your child’s individual needs and your academic concerns.  I’ll update you

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