Special Education and the COVID-19 Coronavirus Crisis

Video: On September 18, 2020, Rachel Seelig, staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid's Disability Law Project, talked about K - 12 students with disabilities returning to school during the COVID-19 crisis at a town hall presentation. Watch the video on YouTube.

Webinar: On July 22, 2020, Marilyn Mahusky, staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid's Disability Law Project, presented a webinar for the Vermont Family Network on “Returning to School.” View the webinar on YouTube.


Updated 11/13/2020

In June 2020, the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) issued guidance on school reopening scheduled for the fall of 2020. This guidance establishes three steps for school reopening. These steps are:

  • Step I: Schools are closed for in-person instruction. Remote learning opportunities should be provided for all students. Support provision of student services such school meal programs as possible.
  • Step II: Schools are open for in-person instruction with enhanced physical distancing measures and for children who live in the local geographical area only.
  • Step III: Schools are open for in-person instruction with distancing measures. Restrict attendance to those from limited transmission areas only.

See the complete guidance and updates on the Vermont Agency of Education website.

Aside from issuing this guidance, the AOE has left it up to individual supervisory unions/school districts to determine what learning options they will offer. Learning options include remote learning only, in-person learning only, or a combination of remote and in-person learning (“hybrid model”). Most schools are offering the hybrid model. View a map showing which school districts are offering which learning options.

As students with disabilities return to school, families are facing many new questions as they try to help their child navigate learning in a different environment. Here is some information which may be helpful.

  • A school must give students with disabilities the same choice it gives other students between in-person, remote or hybrid learning. See our IEPs and 504 Plans are Still Individualized During COVID-19 page.
  • IEP and 504 plans must still be individualized during COVID-19. See our IEPs and 504 Plans are Still Individualized During COVID-19 page
  • A school cannot change the IEP or 504 plan on its own without a meeting. An IEP can be changed without a meeting but only if you agree to the change in writing. See our IEP Amendments Due to COVID-19 page.
  • “Homebound” instruction is different from “virtual” instruction. Homebound instruction is for students who are medically fragile and cannot leave home or are hospitalized. Virtual instruction is when a student is not medically fragile but, due to COVID-19, does not attend school for in-person instruction. Virtual instruction is a method of delivering educational services. “Homebound” is a type of placement for students with disabilities along a continuum of alternative placements that go from least restrictive to most restrictive. See our Learning From Home: Homebound Instruction and Virtual Instruction page.
  • Schools must develop and put in place strategies to help students with disabilities meet COVID-19 safety guidelines in school. Students who have a medical or behavioral reason for not wearing a face mask should not be made to wear one. Students with disabilities cannot be suspended for not meeting COVID-19 safety guidelines if their inability to meet the guidelines is related to their disability. See our Students with Disabilities and COVID-19 Guidelines in School page.
  • Remote instruction generally means that your child will be spending some time accessing their education through Zoom or a similar platform. This means that your child’s teacher and possibly other school personnel will be virtually in your home. Try to provide a learning space for your child that is quiet and free from distractions. You should also be mindful of maintaining the privacy of your child and other household members. We have heard reports of schools in other states sending law enforcement to students’ homes when teachers report seeing things that concerned them in the course of remote instruction, such as the apparent lack of a responsible adult in a home with young children and a child appearing to have access to unsecured firearms.
  • Students continue to have the right to a hearing before being suspended or expelled from school. Students can only be removed from school before they have had a chance for a hearing if they pose an immediate threat of harm to themselves, others, or the school property/environment. This has not changed due to COVID-19. Learn more on our School Suspension or Expulsion page.
  • Sometimes, when students pose an imminent and substantial risk of bodily harm to others, they may be restrained or secluded. This has not changed due to COVID-19. However, the Agency of Education has issued guidance about when the use of restraint is not safe because of the proximity it requires between an adult and a student. If a student has experienced restraint or seclusion in the past, or has begun displaying behaviors that are not de-escalated with other techniques, you may want to convene an IEP or 504 team meeting to create or amend a positive behavior intervention plan to reduce the risk of restraint or seclusion.
  • Students still have the right to have a timely evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education. However, it may be more difficult to complete evaluations due to COVID-19. Evaluations cannot be delayed solely “because of COVID.” School districts can only delay evaluations if there is a student-specific reason for the delay. Learn more about eligibility evaluations.
  • The United States Department of Education recently issued a Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide. You can find the Digital Learning Guide on the Department of Education website.

Need help?

If you have questions or problems with special education in Vermont, contact us for help.

Updated: Dec 23, 2020