Critical Information for Families of Students with Disabilities
Note: The information contained in this blog was accurate at time of publication. We’ll continue to track trends related to shifts in timelines or instruction modality (i.e., remote, hybrid, in-person) and will update this blog as needed.
In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance that stated that students with disabilities remain entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) despite school closures related to the pandemic, and that students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or Section 504 Plans are to continue to receive their services to the greatest extent possible. The U.S. Department of Education has not waived any required timelines for special education initial evaluations, reevaluations, or for when IEPs must be in effect.
In July 2020, Governor Cooper gave school districts in North Carolina the option to begin the year implementing Plan B (in-person instruction with moderate social distancing) or Plan C (fully remote learning environment) as the method of instruction. On September 17, Governor Cooper modified the previous options and issued an order allowing districts to implement Plan A (in-person instruction with minimal social distancing) in grades K-5 beginning in early October.
Local Context for CMS
Because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is a large, urban district, the CMS Board of Education voted to begin the academic year under Plan C. District leaders are now moving CMS into Plan B, with the plan for our youngest students to return in mid-October and high school students to return at the beginning of 2021. However, the plan for some students with disabilities is slightly different.
CMS Begins Shift to In-Person Learning
On September 29, 2020, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools welcomed back their first set of students returning in-person. Families of students with disabilities in the most specialized placements in the district (i.e., students who attend Charlotte-Mecklenburg Academy, Metro School, PreK Separate Program, Extensions Program, and Specialized Behavior Support (SBS) Program) were contacted by CMS beginning September 9 and given the option to return in-person or remain fully remote.
What if Families Want to Opt In or Out of Remote Learning?
Regardless of how students began the school year, families may opt in or out of Full Remote Academy if there are changes to their childcare, finances, employment, residence, or health (i.e., diagnosis placing student or family in a high-risk category). Contact your student’s school for more information.
To opt in for the second semester, submit a written request to your student’s school registrar before December 4.
What if My Student has an IEP but is not in a Specialized Placement?
Under CMS’ current plan, students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that do not fall under one of these specialized placements will return to school based on the timeline for their grade. Learn more about these timelines here. If a family believes that their student requires in-person special education services to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), they can request an IEP meeting to consider those services.
Remote Learning Plan
All students with disabilities in CMS requiring an IEP should now have a Remote Learning Plan, which details how the student will receive their special education services during remote learning. It also provides an opportunity for families to share any unique needs the student has during remote learning, and request additional supports for the student and/or family. The Remote Learning Plan should be developed in an IEP meeting or, with consent from the parent, developed with the parent’s input without a meeting, then shared with the parent along with a Prior Written Notice document. Families can request an IEP meeting to update the Remote Learning Plan during the school year if the needs of the student or family change.
Health and Safety
CMS has invested more than $3.7 million on health and safety equipment (e.g., face coverings, hand sanitizer, hand soap, gloves, alcohol wipes and disinfectant spray). These costs will continue to rise as they restock to ensure health and safety equipment are available at all times. When possible, the district has used funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, CMS has had to use their own funding as well. For example, the district can purchase hand dryers with federal funds but cannot pay for their installation. The rising costs CMS will incur as the COVID-19 crisis continues sheds a light on the need for additional federal assistance.
CMS will also institute symptom screening procedures. These include a bus attestation form, which parents will fill out at the beginning of each week attesting their child has no symptoms and has not been exposed to a person with COVID-19. In addition, parents will be required to respond to a daily health screening that is sent via email. If parents do not fill out the form by the time the child arrives to school, the child will be asked to fill it out with adult assistance. Students will also have their temperatures checked when arriving at school to ensure it is within the normal range (i.e., under 100.4).
Along with CMS, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Board of Education, and Department of Public Instruction will continue to monitor trends related to COVID-19 at the school- and county-level. This year, the district could phase into Plan A, which requires minimal social distancing, or back to Plan C with fully remote learning.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. (2020). CMS Back to School Plans A B C. Retrieved from HERE
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. (2020). Plan B Readiness Dashboard. Retrieved from HERE
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education. (2020). September 16 Meeting. Retrieved from HERE
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools EC Parent and Community Outreach. (2020). Welcome Families! Retrieved from HERE
NC Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Strong Schools NC: Public Health Toolkit (K-12). Retrieved from HERE
US Department of Education. (2020). OSEP QA 20-01. Retrieved from HERE
US Department of Education. (2020). Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak (March 2020). Retrieved from HERE
Jaimelee Behrendt-Mihalski, MA
Jaimelee Behrendt-Mihalski is the Policy Advocate at Council for Children’s Rights. A graduate of DePaul University with a B.A. in community psychology, she moved to Charlotte in 2013 where she completed a M.A. in community psychology and certificate in nonprofit management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is expected to complete her Ph.D. in health psychology/community psychology in December 2020.
She is drawn to this work because she sees herself and her childhood friends represented in the children served by the Council. A child of an incarcerated parent who attended an underfunded public school, she grew up alongside children who were in foster care, needed special education and mental health services, caught in the middle of custody battles, or were in youth detention facilities. Because of her background and because she was “fortunate enough to have supports and — as a white woman — a lot of unseen privilege” she feels it is her imperative to use her talents and knowledge to shine a light on injustice in systems that impact children.
Jaimelee lives in Charlotte with husband Alex and their dog Behr.
Stephanie Klitsch, JD
Assistant Director of Individual Advocacy
Stephanie Klitsch has been a staff attorney at Council for Children’s Rights since 2012. Originally from upstate New York, she earned a B.S. from Cornell University in 2007, and her J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2012. Prior to law school, she taught 8th grade science with Teach for America in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. In 2015, she was named Outstanding Young Attorney of the Year by the National Association of Counsel for Children (“NACC”). When not advocating for children in foster care with special education needs, Stephanie relishes her time with her husband and two young sons.