Advocacy Notes Children with Disabilities in Virtual Schools

Success in mainstream classrooms when you have a hearing loss is often a substantial challenge for our students. Increasingly, parents are exploring the option of enrolling their student in virtual school learning programs. In August, 2016, the US Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter defining school’s responsibilities to students with disabilities enrolled i­n virtual learning settings.


The letter affirmed that virtual schools must carry out the requirements of IDEA as must physical schools, including:

  • establishing and maintaining qualifications to ensure that personnel necessary to carry out the purposes of IDEA, including personnel serving children with disabilities in virtual schools, are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained, and that those personnel have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities (34 CFR-§300.156(a));
  • appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments, where necessary and as indicated in their respective individualized education programs (IEPs). 34 CFR-§300.160
  • For children who have IEPs and have been determined eligible for special education and related services prior to their enrollment in the virtual school, child find responsibilities also include ensuring that periodic reevaluations are conducted
  • reliance on referrals by parents should not be the primary vehicle for meeting IDEA’s child find requirements; screenings to identify children who might need to be referred for an evaluation and questionnaires filled out by virtual school teachers and staff and children’s parents are ways in which this IDEA child find responsibility can be met
  • ensuring that each eligible child with a disability has FAPE available to him or her in accordance with 34 CFR-§§300.101 and 300.17
  • implementing the evaluation and eligibility requirements in 34 CFR-§§300.300-300.311;
  • carrying out the IEP requirements in 34 CFR-§§300.320 through 300.324, including those governing IEP content, IEP Team participants, parent participation, when IEPs must be in effect, consideration of special factors, the development, review, and revision of IEPs, secondary transition services and participation in State and districtwide assessment programs;
  • implementing the requirements in 34 CFR-§§300.114 through 300.117, regarding education in the least restrictive environment, including ensuring the availability of a continuum of alternative placements to provide special education and related services.

With these points in mind, students with hearing loss should:

1. be receiving appropriate services from the itinerant DHH teacher.

2. be accommodated with fully captioned materials (contact Interact-AS for captioning flipped classrooms), and/or access to ASL interpretation of class materials.

3. receive appropriate testing accommodations, including orally read information, ASL, more time, etc.

4. receive meaningful monitoring of functional progress, including ability to keep up with vocabulary in classes, level of comprehension of presented information (listening comprehension, reading captions/listening, comprehension via sign, any combination of communication access accommodations).

5. include effective two-way communication. Consideration of special factors includes the need for communication with native language users for effective communication. This could mean involving an interpreter in chats/discussions rather than having the student type out messages where deficits in writing, language, syntax could impact evaluation of student knowledge.

6. include transition services, and more broadly, self-advocacy skill development to specifically allow the student to become independent in all communication situations and environments.

7. have access to the intensity of specially designed instruction needed for the student to be able to make meaningful progress considering their individual circumstances. If a student is 2 years delayed in reading comprehension, then direct instruction in reading by a knowledgeable teacher (DHH teacher) would be appropriate to allow progress in foundation skills along with supporting an expected rate of curricular progress.

If you have a question from the field, send it to!

NOTE: The information represents the opinion of Karen Anderson, PhD who is not an attorney. The information presented is not legal advice, may not be the most current, and is subject to change without notice.

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