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Quick action saves school district from liability under the IDEA

January 11, 2021


By: Lily Crespo Esq.

Moving into the New Year, school districts may be looking for guidance on how to assess programs that operate under a reduced schedule or hybrid model. While we don’t have a playbook per se, we can look to other states and districts for best practices concerning the common challenges arising under these pandemic spurred models.

Q: If a school fails to implement a contingency learning plan…what can they do to avoid liability?

A: Act quickly to remedy that failure!

Case file on point: A North Dakota district’s belated provision of copies of virtual lessons to a student with an undisclosed disability did not deny the student FAPE. (Case name: Student with a Disability, In re, 120 LRP 36828 (SEA ND 11/10/20))

Background: The North Dakota Department of Education found no substantive violation of the IDEA when a district admittedly failed to implement accommodations under the contingency learning plan of a student with an undisclosed disability during COVID-19 school closures. Although the district failed to provide accommodations under the student’s IEP on a few occasions during the first week of the hybrid learning schedule, it quickly took action to correct the mistake. The state ED found that the inadvertent error did not constitute a material implementation failure and did not deny the student FAPE.

What the school did right: The parent informed the district that her child did not receive copies of virtual lessons on the first day of school. The principal acknowledged the inadvertent error, and staff immediately made copies and delivered them. The district implemented a plan to address the parent’s concerns by utilizing a daily checklist to ensure that all accommodations were followed, putting a copy in the child’s backpack, and offering an additional one and a half hours of on-site instruction.

Best Practices Implied from this Case: Districts can sometimes avoid unnecessary IDEA litigation by communicating with parents and promptly addressing their concerns. This district took the initiative to develop a contingency learning plan during school closures, and it immediately took action to correct its failure to follow the plan’s requirement to send home copies of virtual lessons. The district’s quick response, which included utilizing a daily checklist to ensure that all accommodations were followed going forward and an offer of one and a half hours of on-site instruction, meant that the implementation failure had little effect on the student’s progress.

As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.

Kaleva Law

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