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The deadline to request services for students with disabilities in New Jersey is approaching

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A deadline is approaching for parents of children with disabilities to take advantage of a New Jersey state law that gives them the right to request “compensatory education” services to make up for the two-and-a-half-year disruption in education caused by the pandemic.

For a state law passed in March, parents have until the end of the year to submit a written request to their school district to schedule Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings to discuss how the student can make up for services they missed due to distance learning during the pandemic. If the school district does not meet with the parents or schedule a meeting by Dec. 31, families can still get help from the state by requesting a due process hearing by Sept. 1, 2023.

“The idea is to see what the child needs and try to figure out how to get the child to where they need to be or where they would be if they were getting the services they need,” said Elizabeth Athos, senior attorney for educational equity at Legal education centers.

In 2020, Newark students switched to distance learning instead of full-time due to school closures due to the pandemic. Special education services were allowed to work virtually under a a new state rule that year prompting revised coursework for students with disabilities and virtual IEP meetings with parents as needed. Despite school districts’ commitments to students with disabilities during the pandemic, Chalkbeat Newark found it in 2020, some Newark students did not receive services for more than 10 days, a situation that constitutes a change in placement that requires an IEP meeting.

Compensatory education may include extra classes per week or services provided outside of the regular school day. In 2020, Art state department of education also told school districts that even if they were performing virtual services during the pandemic, make-up services may still be needed when students return to in-person learning.

Likewise, if families did not have Internet access during the pandemic and were unable to participate in online learning, the student’s IEP team or Newark’s child study team would need to determine what compensatory instruction might be needed when schools reopen .

“We know there have been disruptions and gaps in educational services, so school districts need to have these meetings,” Athos said, adding that the teams are working with parents to decide “what services they can provide in a meaningful way to offset that.” .

While school districts must provide information about what services a student missed during the pandemic, parents can also supplement these findings by providing additional information about how the student responded to virtual services during classes, or a list of services or days the child missed during that time. .

“Either way, it’s good for parents to think about what the IEP requires their child to get and what the child actually got,” Athos added.

Students who have reached the age of 21 at the time of distance learning also have the right to compensatory education to the federal government. In 2021 New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an act providing for a one-year temporary extension of special education and related services for students with disabilities age 21 and older for the 2020-21, 2021-22, or 2022-23 school years. The law applies to students who have met with IEP team members and parents to determine if the student is eligible.

In April Murphy allocated almost 18 million dollars in funds from the federal American Rescue Plan to reimburse school districts for the cost of additional special education services for students affected by educational disruptions. As of April, the state Department of Education had approved reimbursement applications for 221 students in 78 school districts, according to state data.

“The school district has an affirmative obligation to schedule these meetings,” Athos said. “The law says that it can be earlier if the parents wish.”

Compensatory education has always been available under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, for students who may not have received services provided by an IEP. Federal section 504 of the regulation requires a school district to provide “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, to students with disabilities, regardless of the student’s disability. Under IDEA, the state Department of Education is required to monitor school districts’ special education programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

For more information on compensatory education, the Education Law Center contains an FAQ for parents about missed services during a pandemic. Families can also email Newark Office of Special Education or State Office of Special Education OSEinfo@doe.nj.gov for more information.

Jessie Gomez is a Chalkbeat Newark reporter covering public education in the city. Contact Jesse at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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