Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Delivery of IDEA Early Childhood Services During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicUpdated June 9, 2020, 10:58 AM
Part C and Part B, Section 619 Coordinators have sent many questions about how to provide IDEA services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are working to provide guidance to many of these questions. Similarly, key federal guidance has set the stage for providing continuity of learning, including the provision of Part C and Part B, Section 619 services. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education stated:
"No one wants to have learning coming to a halt across America due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the U.S. Department of Education (Department) does not want to stand in the way of good faith efforts to educate students on-line."
While federal guidance is being provided, it is most important to follow decisions made at state and local levels that have taken into account the context of each state, their communites and individual families.
This page summarizes the practice questions from Part C and Part B, Section 619 programs. Policy and legal questions are answered by the Department of Education (ED). We have identified official answers from ED guidance that informs practice, when available, and provided practice guidance, strategies and resources from states and national organizations, as appropriate.
We will continue to update the answers as new information becomes available and are working to provide the latest guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic as quickly as possible when new questions are submitted.
What strategies are states using to obtain consent for evaluation and assessment and the provision of services during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Answer updated April 28, 2020
We know that receiving written consent has been a challenge during the COVID-19 emergency. While written parent consent is an IDEA requirement, under both Parts B and C of the IDEA, states may use electronic or digital signatures for obtaining written parent consent, provided they take the necessary steps to ensure that there are appropriate safeguards to protect the integrity of the process. However, even using electronic signatures or other technology to gather written consent has been problematic at this time.
Included below are some strategies states have developed to obtain written parent consent. Other potential options that states might consider include having parents scan or take a photo of their signed consent and electronically sending it to the provider.
Parental Consent on Form 5-2 must be obtained within one week of the first Remote EI service and may be obtained through appropriate electronic means. In this Remote Early Intervention Guidance: Evaluation, it is stated that parental consent can be emailed securely (without any personally identifiable information), or mailed to the family. Families then mail physical signed forms back to the program.
- Birth to Three Forms (Including Form 5-2: Remote Early Intervention Consent and PA)
- Form 5-2: Remote Early Intervention Consent and PA
- Form 5-2: Remote Early Intervention Consent and PA (Fillable PDF)
- Video about Form 5-2
See also: COVID-19 Interim Remote Early Intervention, Appendix A
"34 C.F.R. §300.505 permits a parent to choose to receive PWN and procedural safeguards (parent's rights) by electronic mail communication if the school makes that option available. 34 C.F.R. §300.9(b) states that "consent" means in part "...the parent understands and agrees in writing/..." Thus, verbal consent is not permitted. However, the IDEA does not specify how written consent must be obtained. Therefore, schools that wish to utilize electronic or digital signatures for consent may do so if they choose. Options for electronic or digital signatures could include but are not limited to the use of applications such as HelloSign, DocuSign, Adobe Sign, or even a parent's email reply to a PWN stating that they consent to the proposed action in the PWN and provide their printed name as a signature."
Answer updated May 7, 2020
State Part C programs have been actively announcing that they are open and accepting referrals during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Some programs have created public awareness flyers to let families know that they will continue to accept referrals online and by phone. The flyers provide links to resources such as the program's online referral application or online screening tool.
Some Part C Lead Agencies have issued letters to the community with guidelines on delivering Early Intervention services through virtual means (i.e., tele-intervention, telehealth). While programs are unable to provide in-person home visits at this time, alternative methods may potentially be used for service delivery, intake, and eligibility determination. States have included this communication with families to include using mail, email, phone, or other teleconferencing method to provide families with information about the typical early intervention eligibility process and to collect intake information. While most referral procedures remain the same, some programs have provided additional clarification on what types of information should be gathered during intake. They have emphasized the importance of documenting why the intake appointment or any other related service was not provided face-to-face and provided information on how evaluation and assessment procedures can be initiated.
Most states have not issued guidance on virtual child find activities, specifically related to identifying and locating infants and toddlers who may be eligible for Part C.
- Connecticut Birth to Three (Connecticut Office of Early Childhood)
- Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP)/(Arizona Department of Economic Security)
Guidance from State Part C Programs
Evaluation and Assessment
What processes are states using if a family does not wish to participate in the referral or evaluation process at this time because of the current situation?
Answer updated May 4, 2020
We are currently collecting state resources and will update this answer as the resources are curated.
Once a referral is accepted in either Part C or Part B Section 619, it should be processed using the current state procedures, including consent and prior written notice. State procedures will apply to parents who do not wish to pursue the referral.
In cases where consent has been obtained, and evaluation and/or the IFSP meeting has been delayed, the Department has indicated that:
"...weather or natural disasters may constitute 'exceptional family circumstances'. The COVID-19 pandemic could be considered an 'exceptional family circumstance'."
In cases where consent has been obtained, if a family does not want to pursue an evaluation for eligibility it can be considered that the family was not able to make the child available for evaluation for Indicator reporting.
Answer updated May 18, 2020
Although there are many advantages to in-person meetings, remote evaluation and assessment can be accomplished successfully with careful planning. The ECTA Center conducted two webinars (one for Part C and one for Part B Section 619) on applying high-quality assessment principles to evaluation for determining eligibility remotely. These webinars reviewed the purposes of evaluation and assessment, and the considerations for policies and procedures related to determining eligibility remotely.
- Applying Assessment Principles to Evaluation for Eligibility Remotely (Part C)
- Applying Assessment Principles to Evaluation for Eligibility Remotely (Section 619)
- Norm-Referenced Assessment Tools for Children Birth to Age Five Years with Potential for Remote Administration for Eligibility Determination
What are some strategies states can use during COVID-19 to facilitate continued developmental monitoring and screening for the purposes of identifying and referring children to Part C?
Answer updated June 9, 2020
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly support the continued provision of screening as a part of ongoing health care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Summarized below are recommendations and strategies for states to consider.
The AAP recommends that newborn screenings continue to take place during COVID-19, including newborn bloodspot screenings, newborn hearing screenings, and critical congenital heart disease screenings. Pediatricians should continue to follow federal and state guidelines on newborn screenings. In addition, adherence to the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) 1-3-6 guidelines should be maintained – screening by 1 month of age, diagnosis of hearing loss by 3 months of age, and entry into EI services by 6 months of age.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC also recommends that developmental monitoring, using the developmental milestones, and screenings continue to take place during COVID-19. To support early identification of developmental delays and disabilities during this time, the CDC is exploring a new COVID-19 related project that would expand the reach of the Act Early Ambassadors to connect community partners and families to essential services such as developmental screenings.
Suggested strategies from the CDC include:
- In general, it is important to get the word out there that referrals, evaluations and EI services are still taking place in your state, as many primary referral sources, including healthcare providers and families, may be unsure of the status.
- Act Early Ambassadors: Check with your state Act Early Ambassador who may be aware of screening efforts that could be better leveraged in your state.
- Help Me Grow Affiliate Resources for Responding to COVID-19: Connect with Help Me Grow where available, as they have already been doing screenings online and by phone. This page on the Help Me Grow National Center website includes resources to support families during COVID-19 and survey results on how Help Me Grow programs have been responding to community needs and challenges.
- Preschool Development Grant (PDG): Connect with your state's PDG grantee, as many have invested in early childhood screening systems.
- Survey of Well-Being of Young Children (SWYC): Free, comprehensive screening instrument for children under 5 years of age. The SWYC was written to be simple to answer, short, and easy to read. The entire instrument requires 15 minutes or less to complete and is straightforward to score and interpret.
- Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQ): See the guidance and webinar from Brookes Publishing on how to administer developmental screenings with the ASQ-3 in a virtual environment.
- Connect families to screening tools:
- The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-Up (M-CHAT-R/F) is a 2-stage parent-report screening tool that should be used in partnership with a trained health care professional to assess risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The M-CHAT-R/F is an autism screening tool designed to identify children 16 to 30 months of age who should receive a more thorough assessment for possible early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or developmental delay.
- Easter Seals Make the First Five Count provides a free, confidential platform for families to use the ASQ 3 screening tool and includes a prep tip sheet for parents.
Answer updated April 28, 2020
Part C §303.343)(2) requires IFSP meetings to be held in settings and at times that are convenient for the family, which would include transition planning conferences. These meetings may be held in consultation with the parent through a teleconference or other alternative methods such as e-mail or video conference, consistent with privacy interests.
Part B IEP team guidance from the Department of Education:
"...parents and an IEP Team may agree to conduct IEP meetings through alternate means, including videoconferencing or conference telephone calls. 34 C.F.R. §300.328. Again, we encourage school teams and parents to work collaboratively and creatively to meet IEP timeline requirements."
- Colorado CDHS CDE Joint Guidance on Part C to B Activities During COVID-19
- Connecticut Interim Remote Evaluation and Assessment
- Connecticut Remote Early Intervention Guidance: Evaluation
- Guidance on Compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Kansas Special Education for Exceptional Children Act during the COVID-19 Pandemic (see question A-12 on page 6)
Remote Service Delivery and Distance Learning
Many Part C programs are open, providing IDEA services using remote service delivery and distance learning and other strategies. Many states and local programs are providing services to their general student population using distance learning, which also includes IDEA services. We are also working on identifying resources and guidance related to equity issues with provider and educator use of technology.
How are states using distance learning to provide services to preschool-aged children with disabilities?
Answer updated April 28, 2020
"Department does not want to stand in the way of good faith efforts to educate students on-line... To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically. The Department understands that, during this national emergency schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided."
The Department of Education outlined states' responsibilities for serving infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities and their families during the COVID-19 outbreak:
"The IDEA, Section 504, and Title II of the ADA do not specifically address a situation in which elementary and secondary schools are closed for an extended period of time (generally more than 10 consecutive days) because of exceptional circumstances, such as an outbreak of a particular disease.
If an LEA closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then an LEA would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time. Once school resumes, the LEA must make every effort to provide special education and related services to the child in accordance with the child's individualized education program (IEP) or, for students entitled to FAPE under Section 504, consistent with a plan developed to meet the requirements of Section 504. The Department understands there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided. In addition, an IEP Team and, as appropriate to an individual student with a disability, the personnel responsible for ensuring FAPE to a student for the purposes of Section 504, would be required to make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory services are needed under applicable standards and requirements.
If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR §35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student's IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR §104.33 (Section 504))."
Specifically, within the Q&A document, Question A-1 addresses if an LEA is required to continue to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by a COVID-19 outbreak.
There are a number of state examples and other resources on the ECTA website related to remote service delivery and distance learning. For example:
- Illinois Remote Learning Recommendations: During COVID-19: This document provides information and clarification to districts, schools, leaders, teachers, students, and parents as they design and implement distance learning in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Information about special education and related services can be found on pages 30-32.
- North Carolina Part B, Section 619 Remote Learning Activities: These activities do not require technology, are aligned to NC standards, and are organized by age and grade level.
- Supporting Families During the Pandemic: Four Therapists Share Their Wisdom: In this video, four early intervention practitioners from the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities (Ohio) share their experiences and advice about using video conferencing to deliver home visits.
How are states using remote service delivery and distance learning to provide services for infants and toddlers with disabilities?
Answer updated April 28, 2020
During a March 25, 2020 webinar, ITCA shared that 89% of respondents are doing phone consultation, 84% are using technology, 30% are completing home visits as requests and 32% are delaying services.
Where can I find policies other states have developed on using tele-intervention and distance learning strategies?
Answer updated April 28, 2020
ECTA is collecting state guidance and resources on remote service delivery and distance learning.
Answer updated April 28, 2020
ECTA has been identifying resources on remote service delivery and distance learning, including information on technology and privacy. It is important to check your state and local policies for information on approved technologies or privacy policies that may impact your use of different virtual platforms. For more information on secure platforms, these resources may be helpful:
- The American Psychological Association: Comparing the Latest Telehealth Solution: A panel of psychologists rate and review the latest telehealth solutions based on privacy/security, available features, ease of use, functionality, customer support, and value for the money.
- Planning for the Use of Video Conferencing for Early Intervention Home Visits during the COVID-19 Pandemic: On page 4 of this document from Larry Edelman, a variety of video conferencing applications are shared.
- U.S. Department of HHS: Security Rule Guidance Material
- The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health: Telehealth Technologies and Preparing to Select a Vendor
- Clinician's Guide to Video Platforms
What are some considerations that state Part C programs should think about when planning to increase in-person activities as a result of governors lifting stay at home orders?
Answer updated June 9, 2020
As governors and state leaders begin to lift stay at home orders issued as a result of COVID-19, state Part C programs are in various stages of planning for increasing in-person activities related to workplace operations as well as service delivery. Infrastructure adjustments will likely also need to be made to ensure successful implementation of these plans. Some key considerations during the process of planning and implementing these changes were developed by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center with input from state Part C Coordinators who have already initiated this planning. These considerations are expected to evolve over time to address the changing landscape and impact of COVID-19 on children and families, personnel, and service delivery.
Considerations for Increasing In-Person Activities and Making Infrastructure Adjustments for Part C During COVID-19 were released on a webinar where two state Part C coordinators (from Indiana and Oklahoma) shared their plans for increasing in-person activities.
The ECTA Center, along with other early childhood TA centers can support states in the development and implementation of these plans.
Child and Family Outcomes
Answer updated April 28, 2020
Although there are many advantages to in-person meetings, teleconferencing can be accomplished successfully with careful planning. The ECTA and DaSy Centers have developed a resource to assist teams conducting COS rating determination meetings using telecommunication devices such as phones and/or computers with or without video to have discussions with team members in different locations through teleconferencing.
What guidance are states providing to support collection of Indicator B7 preschool outcomes data when face-to-face evaluation of functional skills not possible?
Answer updated May 18, 2020
Many states have adapted their policies and procedures around collecting child outcomes data in a variety ways. States are implementing procedures to ensure the collection of data around functional abilities at both entry and exit. Specific examples follow.
District staff should continue to gather evidence using the same assessment tools in an effort to assure data quality and completeness during COVID-19 school building closure and continuous learning. Staff have the flexibility to gather additional information through parent report or informal assessment via virtual meetings, teleconferences, small groups, and one-on-one meetings to inform and support the completion of the COS rating. If a teacher completed an interim assessment on a tool like the Assessment and Evaluation Programming System (AEPS) right before spring break, every effort should be made to use this information to inform the exit rating.
See: Kansas State Department of Education Guidance: Compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Kansas Special Education for Exceptional Children Act during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Rhode Island (COS)
COS entry and exit ratings can be completed with families through virtual meetings.
IEP teams are expected to use assessments, observations, and referral information to complete COS entrance ratings. If it is not feasible to administer an anchor assessment at entrance, this should be documented within the appropriate reporting platform (e.g., Teaching Strategies GOLD, IEP online, Excel federal reporting forms). Teams should also document the sources of information used to determine the COS rating. When completing the exit rating, the IEP team is expected to use reasonable efforts to meet and use available information reflective of the student's current functional abilities. Sufficient information might include student work, observations, and assessments completed prior to school building closures, as well as informal assessments such as parent or caregiver interviews, and/or formative assessments administered virtually. School districts should document sources of information used to determine the exit rating within the appropriate reporting platform.
Colorado (Publisher Conversion/GOLD)
If the GOLD spring checkpoint cannot be completed due to school closures, the most recent finalized checkpoint data should be used, which will likely be the winter checkpoint. School districts may voluntarily complete the GOLD spring checkpoint if they feel it is appropriate and they have the information they need prior to the child exiting preschool special education and transitioning to kindergarten. Districts should still complete the OSEP exit process in GOLD so that children's exit data are captured appropriately.
Arizona (Publisher Conversion/GOLD)
All documentation collected for the spring checkpoint should be recorded in GOLD, including observations, notes, and work samples collected during this period. Additional strategies for collecting data include increasing parent engagement in their child's assessment; using the summer checkpoint between June 8, 2020 – July 20, 2020 for children with extended school year or compensatory services; and using ratings from the winter checkpoint if there is supporting documentation (this should be a last resort).
What are considerations for states who pay providers using Medicaid, if services are provided remotely?
Answer updated April 28, 2020
Medicaid has relaxed their requirements during this crisis. Each state would have to consider their current state plan amendment for Medicaid and follow state guidance.
Answer updated April 29, 2020
IDEA does not address the use of setaside funds to support virtual learning. However, IDEA §300.814(b) states that one of the uses of set-aside funds are "for direct services for children eligible for services under section 619 of the Act".
Furthermore, §300.704(b) allows states to reserve a portion of their allocations for other state-level activities, including:
- For support and direct services, including technical assistance, personnel preparation, and professional development and training;
- To support paperwork reduction activities, including expanding the use of technology in the IEP process;
- To assist LEAs in providing positive behavioral interventions and supports and mental health services for children with disabilities;
- To improve the use of technology in the classroom by children with disabilities to enhance learning;
- To support the use of technology, including technology with universal design principles and assistive technology devices, to maximize accessibility to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities;
- Development and implementation of transition programs, including coordination of services with agencies involved in supporting the transition of students with disabilities to postsecondary activities;
- To assist LEAs in meeting personnel shortages;
- To support capacity building activities and improve the delivery of services by LEAs to improve results for children with disabilities;
- Alternative programming for children with disabilities who have been expelled from school, and services for children with disabilities in correctional facilities, children enrolled in State-operated or State-supported schools, and children with disabilities in charter schools;
- To support the development and provision of appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities, or the development and provision of alternate assessments that are valid and reliable for assessing the performance of children with disabilities, in accordance with sections 1111(b) and 1201 of the ESEA; and
- To provide technical assistance to schools and LEAs, and direct services, including direct student services described in section 1003A(c)(3) of the ESEA, to children with disabilities, in schools or LEAs implementing comprehensive support and improvement activities or targeted support and improvement activities under section 1111(d) of the ESEA on the basis of consistent underperformance of the disaggregated subgroup of children with disabilities, including providing professional development to special and regular education teachers who teach children with disabilities, based on scientifically based research to improve educational instruction, in order to improve academic achievement based on the challenging academic standards described in section 1111(b)(1) of the ESEA.