By Matthew Korobkin, Senior Advisor
Over the next several weeks, school districts and families of students with disabilities may be concerned about how IEP meetings will be convened and how timelines will be met. During a time of “social-distancing” because of COVID-19, school districts should consider hosting remote IEP meetings in order to meet the timeline requirements set forth by their state education agency.
Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), the use of remote conferencing for IEP meetings is allowable and encouraged (34 CFR § 300.322(c)). Furthermore, IDEA permits phone or web conference IEP meetings if parents and the school district agree to use alternative methods of meeting participation (34 CFR §300.328). Of course, school districts should consult state education agency regulations and administrative code to ensure compliance with local rules.
Considerations when Conducting Remote IEP Meetings Over the Phone or Web Conference
Remote conferencing options can enable school districts to be compliant with meeting IEP timelines during public health-related school closures.1 Should a district decide to conduct its IEP meetings virtually, there are some important considerations it must weigh:
- District and Parent Agreement. As stated in IDEA, the parents and the school district must agree to this alternative method of meeting—may it be teleconference or web conference. These agreements, either formally written in a letter or informally composed in an email, should be memorialized and this documentation should be kept in the student’s file for future reference.
- Offer Meeting Options. Always offer different meeting options to families. Some parents may prefer using the phone whereas others may be amenable to a web conference using a camera and computer or phone audio. Web conferencing is preferred, as participants can see each other. Consider using a conference tool that allows both phone and web conferencing. Always make sure the web conferencing tool is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant for parents and IEP team members with disabilities. Additionally, if the family’s native language is not English, make sure an interpreter is part of the phone or web conference.
- Technology Preparation. Should the school district use a web conferencing tool, it should prepare for its use by providing a brief “how to” guide written to parents who may not be familiar with it. In addition, the district may want to set up a brief “dry run” with the parent ahead of the meeting to make sure the technology works. In addition, consult with your district’s information technology department to confirm the platform meets the security standards of your state.
- Remote Meeting Etiquette. Web conferences are an effective way to communicate. However, the facilitator must set up some clear “ground rules” to ensure that all members of the IEP team have an opportunity to contribute and to be heard. Should parents have concerns ahead of the IEP meeting, encourage parents to share their concerns through email in advance so the district is prepared to address them in an organized manner.
- Attendance and Sign-in. The same protocols for attendance at a traditional IEP meeting apply at a virtual one. IEP members who cannot be in attendance must be excused. All attendees of the IEP meeting must sign-in. In a virtual meeting, districts may consider circulating a copy of the attendance sheet at the beginning of the meeting via email, requesting that participants print, sign (in blue ink), and send a photo with their smartphone or scan and send it back. This process should occur as soon as feasible.
- Recording the meeting. The same rules apply for recording a meeting in both face-to-face and virtual settings. In some states, prior notice must be given to all parties in attendance. Before recording an IEP meeting, check with your state’s administrative code and regulations to confirm the nuances of this matter specific in your state. Given the ease in recording a web conference, following the protocols specific to your state, it may behoove your district to offer to record the meeting and immediately share the recorded file after the meeting has concluded.
Avoiding Virtual Meeting Pitfalls
Remote IEP meetings, may they be through teleconference or web conference, may have pitfalls that cannot be overlooked. Both families and districts should keep these in mind to assure a successful IEP meeting:
- Don’t Overlook Formalities. Don’t forget to introduce IEP team members and state the purpose of the meeting. Always distribute agendas via email before the meeting.
- Remind Participants to Speak Clearly and One at a Time. This may seem like a commonsense item. However, it is important to remind meeting participants about the importance of this courtesy on a phone or web conference.
- Prep the Tech. Always make sure that the microphone or camera work. Test the equipment in advance to assure that it works during the meeting.
- Frequently Check-In with the Family: It always pays dividends for the district representative to check-in with the family to confirm they are following along. It is incumbent upon the district representatives to repeatedly check-in with the parents throughout the meeting—even more than a face-to-face meeting.
How PCG Can Help During an Unprecedented Time
COVID-19 is creating significant challenges for school districts. PCG is always looking for ways to support districts and students. One such way we help districts is by providing an online signature tool, through our tool known as EDPlan Connect.
EDPlan is a suite of tools and services from PCG that helps you promote a plan for student success—in special education, academics, behavior, and beyond. EDPlan’s features have been designed in partnership with teachers, education professionals, and project management experts; it is used in more than 30 states, supporting thousands of schools and districts nationwide. Within EDPlan is our IEP case management system, EasyIEP. It is the country’s leading web-based special education case management tool, used by over 3,500 districts across the country to achieve and maintain federal and state compliance and improve processes and procedures.
EDPlan Connect is our all-in-one caregiver portal that promotes increased family involvement in a child’s education. Whether it’s signing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), consenting to bill Medicaid, or prescribing services via Order/Referral, with EDPlan Connect, caregivers now have a central place to access student records online and in their native language; sign documents electronically and save time; receive automatic and personalized notifications from other key stakeholders; and stay up to date with student progress.
About the Author
Matthew Korobkin, a Senior Advisor for Special Education Services based in Princeton, NJ, brings strategic planning expertise at the state and district level in the areas of special education policy, compliance, operations, and instructional practice. Currently, Matthew focuses on supporting our national efforts in this field; performing special education program reviews as well as targeted reviews throughout the country; and working with other subject matter experts on thought leadership development.
Prior to joining PCG, Matthew was the Special Education Officer for Strategic Planning and Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Education at the Delaware Department of Education. As a direct report to the Secretary of Education, Matthew advised a legislated Special Education Oversight Group comprised of the Governor, Co-Chairs of the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee, and cabinet secretaries from the Department of Education, Department of Health and Social Services, and the Department of Services for Children, Youth, and their Families.
1 As of the time this document has been written, 3/18/2020, the US Department of Education has not offered districts guidance on timeline waivers. In addition, consult with your state education agency about how COVID-19 closures and off-site learning may impact timeline calculations.