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Considerations Regarding COVID-19 for Schools and Students with Disabilities

ASHA recommends that school-based audiologists and SLPs review this information in the event of school closures due to Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19). ASHA also provides COVID-19 updates, including on-the-job resources related to academic programs, telepractice, telesupervision, handling in-person appointments, assessing personal risk, and taking precautions.

Federal Guidance on COVID-19 for Schools, Students with Disabilities, and Other Beneficiaries

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have released new resources to provide guidance to those working in schools and providing services to children with disabilities.

Distance Learning Opportunities

ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to states and other stakeholders amid the COVID-19 pandemic titled, Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities [PDF]. The guidance explains that as a school district takes necessary steps to address the health, safety, and well-being of all its students and staff, educators can use distance learning opportunities to serve all students, including students with disabilities, and comply with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

ED made clear that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related services to students. FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services delivered through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically. ED noted that many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online, which may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

Additionally, OSERS attached a list to the Supplemental Fact Sheet with information on IDEA timeframes that may be extended during this unprecedented national emergency. (March 21, 2020)

Providing Services 

ED has issued new resources to assist school-based educators in protecting student privacy and ensuring students with disabilities continue receiving services required under the IDEA. ED’s Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak [PDF] (ED Q&A; March 2020) outlines states’ responsibilities to infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities and their families, and to the staff serving these children. It answers the most common questions schools have about when and how they must provide instruction, including when to consider use of online or virtual instruction and other curriculum-based instructional activities. 

Laurie VanderPloeg, the director of the Office of Special Education Programs, which is within ED, provided a detailed overview of the ED Q&A document and answered questions about topics such as compensatory education, distance/virtual learning, homebound, and FAPE in this video resource. You can also find questions and answers addressed in the video in this document [PDF], categorized by the following topics: compensatory services, distance/virtual learning, educational services, educator choice, FAPE, federal funds, homebound, IDEA compliance, IEP team decision, LEA decision, out-of-district, parent choice, privacy law, school/district closed, and IDEA timeline.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

ED released FERPA & Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions [PDF] (March 2020). This new guidance from ED on student privacy provides clarity about the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as it pertains to COVID-19, as well as a sample informed consent form. Another privacy law to consider is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which addresses the confidentiality of protected health information. The Joint Guidance on the Application of FERPA and HIPAA to Student Health Records provides examples of instances in which an educational agency or institution can be subject to both FERPA and HIPAA or HIPAA alone. See information under the Telepractice Considerations section below about the relaxation of HIPAA penalties. 

Assessments and Accountability

ED released a Fact Sheet: Impact of COVID-19 on Assessments and Accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [PDF] (March 12, 2020), which provides information for K-12 educators on flexibilities ED could grant when it comes to the accountability standards required by law under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The fact sheet discusses, among other things, the potential implications of COVID-19 on state assessment and accountability systems.

Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also published a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions document [PDF] to aid Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) agencies in their response to COVID-19. The FAQ includes information on the use of telepractice.

Telepractice Considerations

As a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, the federal government relaxed HIPAA enforcement of federal penalties, providing more flexibilities for health care providers to choose telepractice platforms. While this may help many audiologists and SLPs, these loosened regulations do not apply in all situations and do not address regulations governed by FERPA. Therefore, it is important to be aware of state telepractice laws and regulations for licensure and service delivery [PDF]. The  FERPA and Virtual Learning Related Resources [PDF] (March 2020) document provides a compilation of ED resources on FERPA and considerations for virtual learning. Be sure to use the ASHA Telepractice Checklist for School-Based Professionals [PDF] to see steps for planning and implementing telepractice services. For more information on telepractice, see ASHA’s Telepractice Resources During COVID-19 webpage.

State Information

State governments are considering federal guidance as they take steps daily to address COVID-19 in a manner they deem appropriate for their constituents, which makes this a highly fluid situation. As such, ASHA strongly recommends that members also look to leaders in their states, school districts, and schools for specific information about serving their students. ASHA’s State-by-State webpages include contact information for each state’s Department of Education.

Additional Resources for School-Based Members

Below are more resources related to COVID-19 that impact the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology:

Questions?

Contact the following ASHA staff for additional information and questions.

  • School practice: Jaumeiko Coleman, ASHA’s director of school services, at jcoleman@asha.org
  • Federal education policy: Catherine Clarke, ASHA’s director of education policy, at cclarke@asha.org
  • State policy: Janet Deppe, ASHA’s director or state affairs, at jdeppe@asha.org

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