Remote Learning for Students with Disabilities


April 8, 2020 | by Amber Smock

Remote Learning for Students with Disabilities

Dear Access Living friends and allies,  

Today, we would like to share some important information regarding remote learning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 emergency school closures. As you may know, all Illinois schools, including Chicago Public Schools (CPS), are closed at least through April 30. Depending on the COVID-19 situation, school closures will likely be extended through summer. What will special education look like during this unprecedented time? Here are the important things families of students with disabilities need to know so please feel free to share our letter with anyone who might be interested. 


Chris Yun

Education Policy Analyst

(312) 640-2134

What is most important during this time? 

We are aware that our students with disabilities and their families across Chicago and Illinois are adjusting to new stay-at-home challenges. Parents may also have concerns of limited learning opportunities due to the school closures. However, we would like to encourage families that the most important thing during this time is the emotional and physical wellbeing of students and supporting them to engage in learning as much as possible. Access Living hears you and we are here for you.  

What should I expect with Remote Learning? 

Remote learning is an alternative learning focused to provide students with continuous educational opportunities even though the student and teacher are separated by distance and/or time. In CPS, Remote Learning Days will begin on April 13, after the spring break this week. Due to the digital divide in the City, CPS cannot offer e-learning to all students. Instead, CPS will provide remote learning, a combination of non-digital (paper-based) curriculum support and digital-based online learning. In addition, CPS will loan about 100,000 laptops and devices to its students, and students with disabilities being one of the priority groups who will receive e-learning devices first. Here are helpful remote learning resources for families of students with disabilities.  

Special education services and other accommodations for students with disabilities: 

During the Remote Learning Days, schools are expected to provide special education services and other accommodations as required in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. Thus, students with disabilities should be able to receive remote instruction and have modified assignments based on their IEPs, and annual IEP meetings will continue either by videoconference or over the phone with parent’s consent. However, in reality, some related services may not be available due to the remote learning setting and individualized one-on-one instruction may be difficult to be implemented without modification. In Chicago, CPS is exploring ways to provide IEP or 504 plan required services via teletherapy services during the remote learning period. Federal guidance requires schools to have discussions about compensatory services once students return to school.

However, at this moment, it is unclear if all missed services will be made up. We strongly encourage families to make detailed logs of services students receive during this period for prospective discussion of compensatory services when the school closure is over. Below are helpful guidelines and resources on special education services during the COVID-19 school closures. 

Other helpful resources for families

Action Alert: No Waivers Necessary Under Special Education Laws During COVID-19! 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires the Secretary of Education to prepare a report back to Congress within 30 days on any waivers needed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).

However, Secretary DeVos has sufficient flexibility to help states and districts under IDEA and Section 504 during this challenging time. Instead, Congress must provide states with additional funding so states and schools can offer necessary tools and telehealth related services to students during the COVID-19 school closures. Tell Congress that we must help schools and families work together to find solutions that allow students with disabilities to receive equitable access to an education and the services that support them without weakening or undoing all of their civil and educational rights. 

Please join us and send an email to your Representative and Senators and telling them not to adopt any waivers for educational services under the IDEA and Section 504. For more information, please see Council of Parent Attorneys Advocates’ (COPAA) policy statement