Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 16
How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory
Services for Special Ed. Students?
By Corey Mitchell
Since schools closed in March, Deborah Tomai has sat alongside her son,
a 9-year-old with Down syndrome, as
he made gains in class, developed as a
reader, and grasped concepts, such as
regrouping, in math class.
But she struggles to keep him
focused and motivated during his
remote-learning sessions. One day,
she left him unsupervised in front
of his computer to take a phone call.
When she came back minutes later,
he was in their backyard climbing a
The Tomais live in Edinburg,
Texas, where in-person schooling
has not resumed as the Rio Grande
Valley region continues to fight an
alarming surge in COVID-19 cases.
The family of five has tried to make
the most of their distance learning time, though they realize the
youngest child desperately misses
and needs the support services and
routines that in-person schooling
By law, students who are denied
or miss out on special education services are entitled to compensatory,
or make-up, services. Now, as the
pandemic stretches on, more families are seeking help for children with
disabilities who are suffering learning loss.
The Tomai family could be among
those who benefit from a program in
Texas designed to support students
with severe disabilities who have
suffered learning loss or skill regression during the COVID-19-related
school shutdown. The governor and
the state education agency in Texas
have designated $30 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and
Economic Security Act funds to offer
one-time grants of up to $1,500 for
families to use for therapy, tutoring,
and other services.
" It's just a recognition that, even
in the middle of this, we know that
there's decline happening, " Tomai
said of the program.
But the situation in Texas lays bare
a cold calculus: Millions of students
with disabilities across the country
likely suffered learning loss and skill
regression during the school closures brought on by the COVID-19
pandemic, but there is not enough
money to go around to help them
all make up for lost time. The Texas
plan, known as the Supplementary
Special Education Services program, would scratch just the surface of potential need in that state.
It is designed to supplement-not
replace-the services and resources
outlined in a student's Individualized
Education Program, the carefully
constructed, legally binding plans
designed to meet the educational
needs of children with learning and
The state has an estimated 588,000
students in K-12 schools with disabilities; at most, 60,000 families would
be eligible to receive some support.
Even then, those eligible families-
who comprise about 11 percent of
the overall special education population-would not be eligible for the full
If eligible, Tomai would use the
money for behavioral therapy for her
son and training for herself, to help
her better understand what he needs
from her to make it through each
The rollout of the Texas plan has
been met with criticism from disability rights groups for its limited
scope and focus on so-called lowincidence disabilities that would
provide support for students who
are deaf, blind or have significant
" I'm not clear that there's any
reason to believe that students with
low-incidence disabilities need services more than any other students in
special education, " said Dustin Rynders, the supervising attorney of the
education team at Disability Rights
Making Up for Lost Time
There is widespread agreement
among school districts and disability
rights groups that providing compensatory services does not mean that
every minute, or even every hour,
of missed services needs to be accounted for. But even that narrowed
focus on quality over quantity could
bust district budgets: Providing a
$1,500 grant for every student in
Texas with an IEP would cost about
$882 million at a time when many
states and districts have reached into
their reserves for other COVID-19
" It would break the system of public
education if we tried to compensate
for everything that everyone has lost, "
said Phyllis Wolfram, the executive director of the Council of Administrators of Special Education, which represents district-level officials.
That means some students will
inevitably be left out of the equation. The reality has left schools to
wrestle with a dilemma: Deciding
who gets access to compensatory
services while acknowledging that
failure to provide adequate support
to students who struggled during
distance learning could leave districts exposed to costly, time-consuming lawsuits.
Wolfram said school districts
around the country are bracing for an
onslaught of lawsuits.
" Nobody is going to hold a school
district responsible for doing the impossible, " said Andrew Feinstein, a
Connecticut-based lawyer who represents children with disabilities and
their families. " But that is far different
from holding the district responsible
16 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 25, 2020 | www.edweek.org
for failing to provide an appropriate
education because it was inconvenient or expensive. "
Learned and Lost
Massachusetts is among several
states that have already set deadlines
for determining who will receive compensatory education services. By midDecember, the state department of
elementary and secondary education
wants districts to determine which
students with " severe and complex
needs " are eligible for services.
The state education department
did not provide an estimate on how
many students statewide are in the
high-needs category, which includes
children who are homeless or in foster
care, English-language learners with
disabilities, and students who could
not engage in remote learning because of their disability-related needs,
but it is not an insignificant number.
The Boston school system, home to
11,000 students with IEPs, is scrambling to provide services and supports to students with special needs
and meet the state deadline for determining eligibility for compensatory services.
The district suspended all in-person
learning in late October due to a spike
in the citywide coronavirus positivity
rate. Without opportunities for in-person student assessments, it is " challenging to collect the data to understand what students need, " said Ethan
d'Ablemont Burnes, the assistant superintendent who oversees special education in the 54,000-student district.
Overall, the state has about
177,000 students with IEPs. Many of
those will have to wait for a second
round of compensatory servicesrelated evaluations.
" We felt it was important for us to
be clear and put a stake in the ground
around the students with the most
significant and complex disabilities, "
said Russell Johnston, the senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts education department.
Guidance documents issued in several states recommend that schools
clearly assess what progress students
made toward meeting their IEPs and
have meaningful discussions with
parents and other caregivers to determine what students learned and lost
while out of school.
When determining who covers the
cost for services, especially when children have switched districts since last
school year, the Massachusetts guidance recommends that the current
school district determine eligibility
and the former district take financial
The supplemental support offered
to families in Texas and other states
is a concession or temporary fix that
could help ward off legal action while
states make decisions on compensatory services, said John Eisenberg, the
What are compensatory
Compensatory services are used to help students
make up for progress or skills they lost when their
special education services were not provided.
Did the at-home learning opportunities
provided by your school work well for your
* Be ready to talk about what worked and what
* Do you have ideas that might help your child if
at-home learning has to continue for a longer
period of time?
Where are your child's current skills compared
to his or her annual IEP goals?
* Be prepared to talk through whatever information
you have been able to collect about your child's
progress during at-home learning.
* If your child hasn't made the kind of progress that
they usually would because of school closures and
at-home learning, then compensatory services
should be considered.
SOURCE: Texas Education Agency
executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special
" We know, no matter what, there
are going to be kids who just cannot
make progress online, even with the
best of online instruction, " Eisenberg
said. " It makes sense to get more services in the hands of kids who might
have fallen further behind so that you
might avoid " due process hearings.
Schools Are Stretched Thin
Maribel Farish, another Texas parent, counts herself among the lucky.
After six weeks of distance learning to start the school year, her son,
a Houston public schools 4th grader
who has cerebral palsy and impaired
vision, is back in class.
Well before the pandemic shut
down schools last spring, she and her
husband hired a tutor for him. And,
while some students with disabilities
languished without school or support,
the tutor worked with him throughout
Farish is a 2020 graduate of Texas
Partners in Policymaking, an eightmonth fellowship that develops advocacy and leadership skills in adults with
developmental disabilities and family
members of children with disabilities.
A native Spanish speaker, Farish
wants the state to ensure that families of English-language learners and
students who live in poverty know
about the funding available to them
through the state's Supplementary
Special Education Services program.
" This won't close the gap, but it certainly does help, " Farish said.
In Texas, the funds will pay for
services and resources from vendors
approved by the Texas Education
Agency. Families will make purchases
through an online portal scheduled to
open later this year.
" Schools are telling us that they're
stretched thin and that students
across all [special education] categories are struggling right now and need
help, " said Rynders, the supervising
attorney of the education team at Disability Rights Texas. " So, we would
just advocate for a more comprehensive approach. "
In states where many districts remain in distance-learning or hybridlearning models, it may be too early to
push for compensatory services, said
Feinstein, the Connecticut-based disability rights lawyer.
Some schools that opened their
doors for in-person learning have
been forced back into distance
learning because of the fall surge in
COVID-19 cases-and that could
happen in more places, once again
separating students from the services
" As far as compensatory services,
I haven't even asked about them yet
because I don't even know when
that would be available, " said Tomai,
the parent in the Rio Grande Valley.
" We're not even back in school yet.
How are they even going to compensate at this point? "
Education Week - November 25, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 25, 2020
Education Week - November 25, 2020
Training Bias Out of Teachers: Does It Work?
What the Research Says
Pandemic Is a Workers’ Rights Issue For Schools
How Hybrid Learning Is (and Is Not) Working During COVID-19: 6 Case Studies
A Highly Effective Vaccine Is Likely on the Way. What Does That Mean for Schools And Kids?
Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
Districts Are Retreating to Remote Learning As COVID-19 Surges. Do They Have To?
How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
Let’s Get Back to School—Differently
How to Support Your Grieving Students
23 EdWeek Top School Jobs
Parents Are Watching Like Never Before. ‘Trust Us’ Isn’t Enough
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Education Week - November 25, 2020
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 3
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Training Bias Out of Teachers: Does It Work?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - What the Research Says
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 6
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 7
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How Hybrid Learning Is (and Is Not) Working During COVID-19: 6 Case Studies
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 9
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - A Highly Effective Vaccine Is Likely on the Way. What Does That Mean for Schools And Kids?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 11
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 13
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Districts Are Retreating to Remote Learning As COVID-19 Surges. Do They Have To?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 15
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 17
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Let’s Get Back to School—Differently
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How to Support Your Grieving Students
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 20
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 21
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 22
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 23 EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Parents Are Watching Like Never Before. ‘Trust Us’ Isn’t Enough