Speech and language impairments are ranked second amongst disabilities in school-aged children receiving ESE (Exceptional Student Education) services or often referred to as “special education”. Children across the United States are receiving services to address these impairments under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This is the most important law in the United States regarding the education of children with disabilities. During COVID-19 many parents have been very concerned that their children’s continued access to speech and language therapy services as they once received face to face during school will be interrupted or discontinued. How will they keep up with their assignments? Will they lose the skills they were once making progress in?
The United States Department of Education has made it clear that your child is still entitled to a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). This refers to language used in the federal law to describe the right of a student, ages 3 – 21, with a disability to special services that will meet his/her individual learning needs, at no cost to parents. ED has stated that FAPE may encompass, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction (virtually, online, or telephonically). This includes speech and language therapy services.
If you are parent of a student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) who receives speech and/or language therapy services the following information is vital:
- Ensure that your child’s IEP is current and up to date. It is highly advised that you keep a personal copy of the IEP each time it is reviewed annually. Confirm that the dates are current with the current school year’s timeline and that it has not exceeded the timeline for review.
- Follow up with the school’s ESE team and Speech-Language Pathologist. It is a great idea to get to know the team members responsible for implementation of the IEP. This allows you to follow up regarding services or questions that you may have. These important team members serve as a valuable resource to you and are available to provide the tools needed to ensure your child is successful.
- Inquire about how services will be delivered during COVID-19. Many schools across the state of Florida have implemented services through tele-health formats during the initial COVID-19 school closures and duration of the 19-20 school year. During the re-opening of schools in brick and mortar locations across Florida, many may be delivering services through multiple formats. Be sure to find out which delivery methods are available to your child and how the services will be provided to align with their current IEP.
- Your child has a right to privacy. Your child’s personal health records may not be shared without parent consent under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Speech and language therapy services are in fact health services. During the pandemic, the government has exercised discretion in this area in terms of hefty penalties for health providers using technology platforms that don’t fully comply with HIPAA requirements. If your child will receive services tele-health and possibly in a group format, a HIPAA disclosure statement may be provided from the school district regarding possible awareness of information by other group members during the session in which the therapist has no control over who is in the group member’s home during the delivery of services.
- Regression is not permanent. Many parents are troubled by the thought of their child losing valuable skills gained across direct therapy services and feel their children may never recover from this situation. Do not be dismayed. Just as your child learned the skills before, they have the ability of re-acquiring those skills again over time. These are unforeseen circumstances and the Speech-Language Pathologist will do their best to ensure those skills are retained.