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With speech and language impairment ranking as the second most common disability category under which U.S. schoolchildren receive services via the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), many parents are reporting concern about the impact of COVID-19 related school closures—worried about their children’s access to speech and language services and their children’s ability to successfully complete schoolwork and maintain skills from home.
ASHA offers this information to parents of children who have been receiving speech-language pathology services in schools:
Your child is (still) entitled to a free appropriate public education. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has clarified that school districts must continue to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students at this time—including students with disabilities. ED has stated that FAPE may encompass, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction (virtually, online, or telephonically). While noting that it may not be possible for services to be provided in the same manner as they are when school buildings are open, ED emphasizes that federal disability law offers flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.
Your child may be able to receive virtual speech and language services during closures. Some school districts had virtual treatment services in place prior to COVID-19, and some have initiated or increased so-called telepractice capability because of the pandemic. According to ED, “Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include speech or language services through video conferencing.” However, a school’s ability to offer telepractice services depends on state regulations of telepractice for speech and language treatment, local school district policies, technology capabilities of both the school district and family, and a variety of other factors outside the control of parents and speech-language pathologists (SLPs). And although, in some cases, telepractice can offer equal benefits to therapy delivered in person, in other cases, it may not—depending on the individual child, their specific condition(s), and their strengths and weaknesses.
Your child has a right to privacy. Privacy laws for students with speech and language disabilities still apply. A student’s personal health records may not be shared without parental consent under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—although the government has announced that it will exercise discretion regarding enforcement of penalties for health providers using remote communications technologies that don’t fully comply with HIPAA requirements. Another important privacy law is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects students’ private educational records. Parents should know that SLPs may need to modify treatment or seek parental approval in certain instances due to these privacy considerations—such as when providing group treatment to students. Although students’ privacy may be reasonably protected when group services are provided in person, when done via telepractice, other adults or members of a household may become aware of the personal information of other students. These are factors that parents and SLPs must consider together.
Children who regress can rebound. Amidst current circumstances, children with speech and language disorders are at a greater risk of regressing educationally than other students. However, students can regain ground; in most cases, a child’s regression will not be permanent.
You are doing your best. SLPs understand that the demands parents are facing are unprecedented. They realize that most parents are not trained as professional therapists or student aides, and that many children with speech and/or language disorders may not adapt to distance learning as easily as other children. They recognize that parents are doing their best as they strive to help their child with schoolwork and therapy, often while dealing with a range of other responsibilities.
Your SLP is doing their best. Just as parents confront this new situation, so do SLPs. Most school-based SLPs were not set up to provide telepractice or implement changes to Individualized Education Programs for a large number of students in this very challenging situation. Nonetheless, SLPs continue to be dedicated and fully invested in your child’s educational, social, and life success. To SLPs, having a good partnership with parents is essential—with all parties focused on serving the child’s best interests.