July 28, 2020 Special Needs Families

Dealing with Special Needs Families Issues During COVID-19

Tips and best practices for advocating on behalf of special needs families in the time of COVID-19

By Karl W. Topor

Special Needs Families are facing unique challenges during the time of COVID-19.  We as practitioners must ensure that our clients are ready to deal with these issues.

Clients need to maintain structure as much as possible in times of crisis.

Clients need to maintain structure as much as possible in times of crisis.

Credit: Getty Images

The need for consistency in daily routine, schedules and Parenting Plans

Clients need to maintain structure as much as possible in times of crisis.  They should be both encouraged and reminded to follow the current parenting plans so long as it is reasonable and safe to continue doing so, absent a state or local COVID-19 order or restriction.   Any lost parenting time should be rescheduled with the other parent as soon as possible.   Refusals to reschedule time need to be documented.  Advise your clients to keep detailed notes of your and your co-parent’s actions, including times and dates, what was said and who was present.  Any denial or offer of parenting time, as well as the reasons why should be carefully recorded.  This may be needed at a future hearing date.

SPECIAL Ed Services/ IEP

We must advocate for Special Ed Services during COVID-19, protecting the rights of students with disabilities as states and districts slowly begin the process of reopening schools.  It is vital to understand the Waivers under Key Education Laws including the IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 during the pandemic.   An important tip is that there is no need to waive provisions of the IDEA simply because of schools being temporarily closed.   It is possible for IEP Team members under the current laws to develop amendments in writing without a meeting.  They are able to extend timelines by mutual agreement.  What many practitioners do not realize is that should the need arise, IEP meetings could also occur by video or telephone.  Many schools are conducting virtual IEP team meetings, annual reviews, mediations and due process hearings remotely via zoom or other platforms.

Communication should remain open between the parties and the children. Face Time calls, Skype, Zoom, Go to Meeting and even basic phone calls.  If one parent is quarantined, then continued virtual contact with the other parent for the child’s peace of mind is key to avoiding set-backs in the child’s developmental plans.

If the parties have transitions, or in person contact with the children, then special protocol is warranted.   Adjustments to accommodate the children are warranted.  Practitioners may wish to create a COVID-19 pandemic parenting plan.   Parenting time should be temporarily suspended shall one of the parties or children contract COVID-19.   Special care is and sanitation is needed if a person in one of the homes is exposed to an infected individual on a regular basis.  Ask your client if one of the caretakers of the child works in a setting which exposes them to a higher risk of contracting the virus?  You may also consider whether any actions of the parent are exposing the child to unnecessary danger or risk.  Does the parent disregard the child by taking them out to a crowded location such as a beach despite a quarantine?  Are they failing to socially distance?

Lastly, language should be used in Court orders/ parenting plans to reflect the current pandemic.   One may consider adding verbiage in a temporary agreement or parenting plan dealing with temporary suspension of parenting time shall the child be exposed to an elevated risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.   Cite examples such as attending large gatherings, leaving the home without a mask, failure to properly wash hands.  One may ask the Court to order a prohibition of the child from in-person all together for non-compliance.

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Karl W. Topor

Esq., Newton, MA

Law Offices of Karl W Topor

ABA Section of Family Law Special Needs Families Committee Chair