Long COVID May Cause Disability and Eligibility for Services

Some people infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus experience long-term symptoms—called Long COVID. If lasting symptoms significantly impact a person’s life, their ability to work, or their access to school, disability laws are in place to protect and support them.

Among federal laws that support disability rights are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which includes Section 504), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Note that Part B of the IDEA supports special education services for ages 3-21, and Part C provides early interventions for children birth-3.

Disability protections are also provided by Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice provide guidance on the HHS.gov website: Guidance on “Long COVID” as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557.

The federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) published a resource that is a place to begin learning about where support is available: How ACL’s Disability and Aging Networks Can Help People with Long COVID. For people whose work is impacted by Long COVID, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy provides information related to job accommodations, employee benefits, worker’s rights, and more.

If a student with Long COVID is impacted, they can be evaluated to determine eligibility for school-based services. For students already identified for school-based services, Long COVID might entitle the student to additional or adjusted services. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS), issued a Fact Sheet July 26, 2021, explaining the rights of children who may have a disability condition related to Long COVID. The rest of this article focuses on protections for children and students.

Section 504 support

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act and includes protections for individuals accessing a public space, service, or program. A person of any age with a disability has the right to accommodations and modifications if their disability condition significantly impacts a major life activity, such as breathing, walking, learning…. Section 504 guarantees equitable access to opportunities publicly available to people without disabilities. If COVID infection has caused a disability condition because of its lasting impacts, then Section 504 protections may apply.

In school, a Section 504 Plan provides a student with support in general education. Criteria are broad and determined if the student has a disability condition that impacts any aspect of their educational access. If so, the student is eligible for support to meet their needs.

For example, a student with Long COVID might have impacts to their breathing, walking, attention span, or stamina. They may need accommodations for a late start, a shortened school day, a reduced workload, or a place to rest while at school. If mental health is impacted, they may need social-emotional or behavioral supports to continue accessing their general education curriculum and class spaces.

School-based IEP services

If evaluation determines that Long COVID impacts a student (ages 3-21) to such a degree that special education and related services are necessary, then the student may be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). One eligibility category for IEP services, for example, is Other Health Impairment (OHI). For a full list of eligibility categories see PAVE’s article: IDEA: The Foundation of Special Education.

An educational evaluation determines:

  1. Is there a disability?
  2. Is there significant educational impact?
  3. Does the student require Specially Designed Instruction and/or Related Services?

If Long COVID has created a condition in which all three criteria are met, then the student receives services with an IEP. If the student already has an IEP and a COVID infection has created new barriers to learning, then a new evaluation may be needed to determine what additional services the IEP team can consider.

Here are a few examples of how Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) and Related Services might be included in an IEP to support a student with Long COVID:

  • A teacher provides instruction differently to support a student whose ability to focus is significantly impacted by Long COVID. Progress toward a skill of attention/focus is tracked to see if there is improvement or if something about the teaching strategy needs an adjustment.
  • A teacher helps a student learn emotional coping strategies after Long COVID caused severe anxiety and mood dysregulation. A goal is set to track progress on this social emotional learning (SEL) skill.
  • A physical education teacher provides a specially designed PE program for a student with Long COVID whose symptoms get worse with physical exertion. Goals are set, and progress is monitored. See PAVE’s article about Adapted PE.
  • A student with lingering physical symptoms of COVID receives physical or occupational therapy as a Related Services through the IEP.
  • A student with psychological impacts from the illness receives counseling as a Related Service on the IEP.

Of course, this is a short and incomplete list of possibilities. IEP teams are responsible to develop programming that is individualized to meet a student’s unique and specific needs. Evaluation data is critical in development of the services and programming, and families have the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at district expense if they don’t believe the district’s own data is accurate or comprehensive enough to develop an appropriate IEP.

The primary entitlement of a student receiving school-based services is FAPE—Free Appropriate Public Education. FAPE means that services enable progress that is appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. If Long COVID has disabled a student’s ability to access school appropriately, then they may be entitled to FAPE. The services that provide FAPE are determined individually and by a team that includes family participants.

Early intervention services

Health officials are reporting developmental delays related to COVID infections. Young children, Birth-3, who have been ill with COVID and have ongoing symptoms may be eligible for disability protections from the IDEA Part C, which provides federal funds for early intervention services delivered through an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). According to the OSERS document about Long COVID:

“A child suspected of having a disability should be referred as soon as possible, but in no case more than seven days, after the child has been identified. With parental consent, a timely, comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluation must be completed, and if the child is determined eligible, a child and family assessment must be conducted to determine the appropriate early intervention services and supports for the child and family.”

Resources to help you

PAVE provides resource collections to support families of children in various ages and stages:

PAVE’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center (F2F) provides direct assistance for questions related to health and wellness, insurance, and access to medical services. For questions about early intervention or school-based services, our Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff can help. Click Get Help from our home page at wapave.org to request individualized support.

Recovery Services: What Families Need to Know as Schools Reopen

A Brief Overview

  • Students who did not make adequate progress on IEP goals due to COVID-19 may need Recovery Services to get back on track. IEP teams are responsible to make student-centered decisions about this option for additional educational services.
  • Not all students need Recovery Services, but the state has made clear that IEP teams must discuss progress made and missed for each student: “Families should not have to make a special request for this process to occur,” according to OSPI guidance.
  • Students who graduated or turned 21 during the pandemic may be eligible for Transition Recovery Services. Please see PAVE’s additional article: Support for Youth Whose Post-High School Plans were Impacted by COVID-19.
  • Read on for tips to get ready to talk about Recovery Services with the IEP team.

Full Article

The 2021-22 school year comes with a unique set of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the diverse ways it impacted families and schools. For students who did not receive the Individualized Education Program (IEP) services they needed for appropriate progress, IEP teams are responsible to get students back on track.

The term “Recovery Services” was designated by Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to describe additional special education services for students who lost progress or failed to make appropriate gains in learning because of the pandemic. Recovery Services are designed to meet the needs of individual students, and IEP teams that include family participants determine what services are necessary based on formal and informal data and team discussions.

State and federal dollars have been allotted to support student recovery, including through the American Rescue Plan. School districts are required to submit a formal plan before accessing these federal funds. Before making their final plans publicly available districts are required to seek public comment. Information about these requirements is described in a publication from OSPI: Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan: Planning Guide 2021 For School Districts, Tribal Compact Schools, and Charter Schools.

OSPI’s guidance provides detail about state requirements for districts to consider social emotional learning, student well-being, and equity issues related to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on different populations—not just academic recovery.

TIP: Families impacted by trauma, death, or other challenges during the pandemic can review their district’s Recovery Plan and consider whether their student’s needs are likely to be met. If there are concerns that support will fall short, meet with school and district staff to request a more individualized, equitable approach. For students with IEPs, needs related to specific losses and trauma can be discussed in the context of an IEP Recovery Services plan.

For the most updated information and guidance about accessing materials in a language other than English, visit OSPI’s website: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance & Resources.

How are Recovery Services determined?

To determine Recovery Services, IEP teams consider key questions:

  • What did the IEP team hope the student would accomplish by now? (Expected progress, skills, and services if there had been no pandemic)
  • What did the student accomplish or access? (Actual progress or regression and services delivered)
  • What is the gap, and how can the team design Recovery Services to fill that gap?

Compensatory Services are different

Another option for extra help is Compensatory Services. Compensatory Services are typically provided as the result of a complaint process if the school failed to serve a student’s IEP. In resolving a Due Process complaint, for example, an administrative law judge might order a school to provide Compensatory Services.

A court ruling or formal complaint process is not required; an IEP team can use its own discretion to develop and provide Compensatory Services if a student’s needs went unmet. The US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recognized early in the pandemic that additional services would likely be necessary when schools resumed in-person instruction and issued this statement in a March 16, 2020, fact sheet:

“The Department understands that there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided. If a student does not receive services after an extended period of time, the student’s IEP Team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services are needed consistent with the respective applicable requirements, including to make up for any skills that may have been lost.”

IEP teams also can discuss ESY

The fall return to school is a good time for IEP teams to consider whether a student experienced learning losses during summer break. By tracking how long it takes to recover a skill, the IEP team can discuss whether the student might need Extended School Year (ESY), typically provided next summer. ESY is a unique process for students with IEPs, and ESY services are determined based on a specific discussion about regression and recoupment. To better understand those terms and how ESY is determined, see PAVE’s article: ESY Helps Students Who Struggle to Maintain Skills and Access FAPE.

IEP teams can discuss Recovery Services, Compensatory Services, and Extended School Year in determining what a student may need to recover learning that was unavailable or inaccessible due to the pandemic or a student’s unique circumstances.

Recovery Services are student- and family-centered

Not all students need Recovery Services, but the state has made clear that IEP teams must discuss progress made and missed for each student in the context of COVID: “Families should not have to make a special request for this process to occur,” according to OSPI guidance.

Like Compensatory Services and ESY, Recovery Services are generally provided outside of regular school. Their focus is helping the student achieve at the level expected if the pandemic hadn’t happened. Recovery services are not calculated as a 1:1 replacement for missed IEP service minutes. According to OSPI:

“Parents and families are key partners in identifying the need for recovery services, as they generally have current information about the student from the time of the school facility closures and since. As with all special education processes, school districts must provide language access supports, including interpretation and translation as needed, to support decisions about recovery services. School districts must ensure parents have the information and supports necessary to participate in the decision-making process.”

Extra services ensure access to FAPE

All options for additional school services are related to the provision of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). FAPE is what students eligible for special education services are entitled to. FAPE is ensured when an IEP is reasonably calculated to enable progress appropriate in light of a child’s circumstances. That specific language comes from a 2017 Supreme Court ruling referred to as Endrew F.

TIP: Here’s a way to talk about Recovery Services using this information: Students who didn’t make appropriate progress on their IEP goals because of the pandemic now are entitled to additional services to access their right to FAPE.

Recovery Services are documented in a PWN

When they are delivered outside of regular school hours, extra services are documented in a Prior Written Notice (PWN), which is a record of an IEP meeting and pending program changes. A PWN is often attached to the IEP when the school shares a copy with the family. As with the IEP itself, family members of the IEP team can request changes or amendments to a Prior Written Notice (PWN).

When documenting Recovery Services, the PWN includes specific details about how, when, and where services are delivered; an explanation about why the services are necessary; data that influenced the decision; and additional options discussed and considered to meet student needs.

In rare cases an IEP team may determine that a student needs Recovery Services to be scheduled within the regular school day. In those cases, Recovery Services are listed in the IEP itself, with detail about when, where, and for how long the services are provided.

Recovery Services honor Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The federal law that governs special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires that special education services provide FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate. To honor a student’s right to LRE, an IEP team is responsible to organize Recovery Services into time slots that don’t interfere with the student’s LRE. Note that these decisions are based on student needs and capacities and not the resource interests of the district or school.

If, for example, a student’s IEP says the student is included in general education for 80 percent of the school day, Recovery Services cannot be scheduled to pull a student out of a general education class and placed in a special education classroom, thus reducing the LRE percentage.

For more information about LRE, see PAVE’s article: Special Education is a Service, Not a Place.

Here are examples of Recovery Services outside of regular school:

  • Additional in-person instruction before or after school
  • Additional special education services during scheduled summer, winter, or spring breaks
  • Additional special education services on district release days
  • Additional in-person or teletherapy services (Speech, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy…) before or after school or during school breaks
  • Additional high-school transition program services, including services that may be provided beyond age 21 and/or high-school graduation (see PAVE’s article: Support for Youth Whose Post-High School Plans were Impacted by COVID-19).
  • Additional remote services before or after school or during school breaks, if the student has demonstrated adequate progress from services provided remotely. These might be provided online or through packets or other accessible means.
  • Additional in-person structured play groups or peer social groups before or after school or during school breaks, particularly to support lost progress in areas of Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Tips to help families prepare to talk about Recovery Services with the IEP team:

  • Read and re-read the most current IEP: PAVE provides an article for navigating the document–Steps to Read, Understand, and Develop an Initial IEP. If family has lost track of the current IEP document, request one from the school or district office.
  • On the IEP Cover Page, note the IEP’s annual review date and whether meetings were held on schedule during the pandemic.
  • Note whether the student is due for an educational evaluation, required every three years. Family can request a new evaluation any time there are concerns that information about the student is outdated or inaccurate.
  • Read each IEP goal carefully. Goals are written to establish whether a teacher’s Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) is effectively helping a child learn a needed skill or concept.
  • Consider whether there are questions about how instruction is specifically designed to meet a need or teach a skill, so the learning is accessible to the student.
  • Reach out to the IEP team case manager or to individual teachers/service providers to request documentation about progress made toward each IEP goal.
  • If progress wasn’t monitored, make a note to discuss this lack of progress monitoring with the IEP team.
  • Write down and prepare to share family/student observations about what worked or didn’t work during alternative school delivery during the pandemic. Reflect on this question: Was the learning accessible?
  • Request an IEP team meeting within a time frame that makes sense. Some teams will want to meet before the school year begins, while others may wait until the school year is underway or until an annual review date later in the school year.
  • Consider inviting district special education staff into the meeting if additional expertise or problem-solving support is needed.
  • At the meeting, ask for family/student concerns to be included in the Prior Written Notice (PWN), a required document generated each time an official IEP team meets to discuss a student’s program and services.
  • Prepare to discuss transportation needs for access to Recovery Services. Transportation options may include district transportation; regional, shared agreements; private transportation; or parent reimbursement for travel costs. Transportation is an IEP related service and part of FAPE delivery.
  • For students near the end of high school or who graduated or turned 21 during the pandemic without achieving or receiving everything that was expected, Transition Recovery Services may be available. See PAVE’s article: Support for Youth Whose Post-High School Plans were Impacted by COVID-19.
  • Consider a student’s strengths and how Recovery Services build on those strengths to support student resilience and well-being. Will the services instill a sense of pride, belonging, and accomplishment? Ensure that the student’s emotional well-being is honored and that the extra help does not feel like punishment.

For additional information, OSPI provides a downloadable document: Washington’s Roadmap for Special Education Recovery Services: 2021 & Beyond.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Return to School Roadmap includes national guidance for educators and families.

PAVE’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) staff can help with questions about school-based services. For questions related to health and wellness, insurance, and access to medical services, PAVE’s Family-to-Family Health Information Center (F2F) provides assistance. Click Get Help from our home page at wapave.org to request individualized support.