This article is part of a series highlighting the presentations given at the 2021 eLumaNation Summit, held virtually September 30 – October 1, 2021
At the 2021 eLumaNation Summit, we were honored to hear from Andrew Manna, Esq, as he presented an update on post-pandemic services along with IDEA reauthorization recommendations.
Andrew represents clients in matters associated with labor and employment law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other matters. He engages in the defense of school corporations against claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), First Amendment and other constitutional and civil rights law matters. He also represents schools with respect to general school policy review. He is a member of the National School Board Association’s Council of School Attorneys. Outside of the practice of law, Andrew enjoys spending time with his family, running and watching football.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2020 and also into 2021, Andrew presented to the National School Boards Association Council of School Attorneys (COSA) on programming for special education needs during a pandemic. In his presentation, Andrew provided updates and insights from those conversations with COSA, OSEP, and additional case updates throughout the country. Andrew also reported on the IDEA Special Education Committee’s work and recommendations.
A Good Faith Effort
In March of 2020 at the start of the Pandemic, everyone was looking to the U.S. Department of Education for guidance. Andrew shared that one of the first pieces of information that came out in regards to how services needed to be provided was that school districts needed to provide a “good faith effort” to educate students online. This meant that all school staff, and parents needed to do their best to figure out ways to ensure all students were being delivered FAPE.
Pre-2020, school districts knew how services were meant to be delivered. There was a roadmap that they had to follow. But the Pandemic created a new, uncharted landscape that left many administrators and educators scratching their heads.
During the Pandemic, most school districts were just figuring out a way to get by. Andrew shares one of the most impactful lessons he learned during the 2020 school year.
“In 2020 there were a lot of administrators who were building the plane as they were flying it and many of you that work with and help students were trying to figure this out. Our approach was to go back to guidance from the U.S. Department of Education which says we have to be flexible. These were unique circumstances and we have to have a good-faith effort.”
He added to this by stating the formula that they followed during the 2020 school year. When in doubt (Which is all the time right now) you need to:
Good faith effort + Documentation = Legally Defensible
Another insight that Andrew shared was that a major focus of school districts was to address learning loss that occurred due to the Pandemic by offering recovery services. On June 19, 2020 the IDOE referenced the term “Recovery Services” with respect to
“universal need of all learners to recover from any educational gaps in learning or loss of skills caused by the unexpected school building closures.”
When it’s possible offer online schooling and services, and the more school districts do so, the less they will have to scramble to find ways of paying for compensatory services later on.
Now that schools have re-opened in Fall 2021, districts are threatened with many of the same challenges they faced in 2020 along with unparalleled rates of litigation because of their inability to meet requirements under IDEA.
Andrew also shared recommendations for provisions and services this year, and that service logs will need to be kept for all students with an IEP or 504 plan. There are also the complexities around mask accomodations and vaccination incentives that potentially could affect the way school districts will be delivering services this year.
Although the landscape of Special Education has changed drastically, many of those changes have provided opportunities for innovation and improvement. Many of you have had to build the plane while you’ve been flying it, and hopefully we can create a new and improved roadmap to the success of Special Education moving forward.
Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn
Follow Andrew on Twitter
Follow Andrew on Facebook