Special EDition: Back to School 2021

July 2021

Back to School 2021

A new school year brings anticipation and excitement for many students—and sometimes a little relief for parents and caregivers! But in addition to book bags and new lesson plans returning to school this year also includes concerns about shifting back to in person learning. Input from parents and youth remains an essential part of the IEP process. Especially this year, because most parents have gained valuable firsthand insights after supervising, if not teaching, your children at home.

To get off to a strong start, consider these tips:

Contact your child's case manager or 504 site coordinator in writing

Find out who your child's case manager will be this year, along with the names of any new specialists or service providers. Confirm that the special education department has contacted all your child's teachers about the services, supports and accommodations in your child's plan so any needed training or information is in place beforehand. Often, teachers only receive an "IEP at a Glance" or 504 summary when the school year begins. Write now to make sure this critical information has been provided in advance, so the teacher has time to ask questions and adequately prepare.

Set clear expectations for when, where and how needed evaluations, services and supports will be provided

Support specified in an IEP or 504 plans should begin immediately unless the signed IEP or 504 plan says differently. When plans are not implemented from day one, things can go wrong quickly. Because of the pandemic, many schools did not meet necessary legal timelines for evaluation or IEP reviews last year. If this is true for your student, request an update on the status of any incomplete evaluation, and make sure everyone agrees on an expected date of completion.

Provide teaching staff with information about your child

No one knows your child better than you do. Prepare a brief summary or "Parent Report" listing your child's strengths and areas that need more attention. Make sure to highlight anything you've observed which might make the process easier including strategies that work for your child and what their hopes and worries are for this school year. Your insights about what worked and what needs improvement might be especially valuable this year since you saw it firsthand--one of the few upsides of distance learning!

Communicate and gather data

Ask how your child's teachers want to communicate, and honor their preferences. Check in as needed, and ask for specific information including work samples, behavior logs, tests, or assessment results to help you monitor your child's progress. If you use email, print out email messages, and keep hard copies for your records. For the most important information, ask the school for confirmation that correspondence was received.

Be a positive presence and request positive feedback

Develop a positive relationship with your child's teachers, specialists and school administrators. Celebrate successes. Don't call or visit school only when there is a problem. Let administrators and teachers know when your child is doing well in addition to when issues arise. The better your relationship with the school is, the more your child will benefit. Ask that student successes be acknowledged and shared so communication isn't limited to problems.

Bring the team together early

Remember, you can request an IEP or 504 meeting at any time if you have concerns about your child's program or progress! It is best to do this in writing so that legal timelines are recorded and put in place. If your child has a 504 plan, you can request a meeting about it too. Sample letters to request these meetings are located here: DREDF Special Education Sample Letters and Forms

Make sure additional supports are identified and included

If you have concerns about your child falling behind or not keeping up due to the pandemic they may be eligible for compensatory education (extra support to help get them back where they would have been if services had been provided as required in the IEP or if the state and federal timelines and requirements had been followed to identify their needs or meet legal timelines). Put these concerns in writing and request a meeting. NOTE: This individual determination may or may not be agreed to because of a variety of factors. See this FAQ on Compensatory Education in the time of COVID-19 for a more detailed explanation.

Additional funding was provided to help meet the needs of students struggling due toschool closures and learning loss because of COVID-19. Students with disabilities should be considered for these programs too. DREDF's May 2021 newsletter provides more information on this topic.

Finally, remember your advocacy basics:

  • Collaborate and problem solve at the local level wherever possible
  • Use evidence and specific examples to back up your requests and concerns
  • Request an IEP meeting to bring the team together to discuss learning loss, regression, student needs and limited progress toward goals to individualize support moving forward.
  • Put concerns in writing  and deliver in ways that provide proof that the school received them.
  • Contact your parent training information center if you need more help to understand the Special Education process and your rights and options


Upcoming Online Training
(Using Zoom)

Special Education Training:
Understanding Special Education: IEP Basics and Beyond (introductory training)

Date: August 9, 2021
Time: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Registration is required:
Training Registration

Special Presentation:

Learn More About Special Education Funding in California

Please join us on August 5, 2021, to learn about California's special education funding from Heather Calomese, Special Education Director and Stacey Wedin, Education Administrator.

Heather and Stacey will help families of students with disabilities understand how California's special education funding – including new federal and state funds – are intended to be spent, and how we can be involved in and reimagine how schools use the funds!

Date: Thursday, August 5, 2021
Time: 1:00 – 2:00 Pacific

You must register for this event:
Special Presentation Registration

Accommodations:  If you need accommodations to participate in the training, please contact or call 510 644-2555 at soon as possible. We generally need 10 days to arrange accommodations and we want to make sure you are included!

Note: We offer all our DREDF Special Education training in Spanish and post other training that may be of interest where we are participating but not hosting on our website as well. See DREDF's Calendar for more information.

Need to talk with an Education Advocate? To contact the PTI, call 510-644-2555, ext. 5227, or email us at The education advocates at DREDF's Parent Training & Information Center (PTI) are available to answer calls and emails though there may be delays due to the needs of staff working from home. Thank you for your understanding!

As more people are vaccinated, especially in our hardest hit communities, we can envision a day when California reaches community immunity – in which strict public health measures will no longer be needed. But until then, we must not let our guard down. We must continue wearing masks, physical distancing, and getting vaccinated when our turn comes.

For the latest information on eligibility for the vaccine, please visit


TIP: Share concerns about student needs early and in writing!on plan


FAPE — Free Appropriate Public Education.
IDEA — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The federal law that creates special education rights for studentren and youth with disabilities 0-22.
IEP — Individualized Educational Program. A legal document that explains how a school will meet the disability related needs of a student eligible for special education.
LRE — Least Restrictive Environment. The requirement in federal law that students with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with non-disabled students and that special education students are not removed from regular classes unless, even with special education support, education in regular classes doesn't meet their needs.
NOTICE OF PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS — Important safeguards that protect the rights of parents and their student with a disability and youth once they become adults. Also give families and school systems several mechanisms through which to resolve their disputes. The Notice of Parent Rights summarizes these safeguards.
PTI — Parent Training and Information Centers are places families can get free help to understand their student with a disability's education rights and learn to use them effectively.

BREAKING CA Disability Advocacy Community News!

NEW RESOURCE: Vaccine Disability Community Advocacy and Information Toolkit

"Over the past three months, California Foundation for Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and DOnetwork have worked with our partners in the disability advocacy community to elevate the need for accessible and equitable priorities for COVID-19 vaccines. In the process, we have also worked diligently to follow the often complicated process of vaccine distribution. We have acknowledged there is a need for a resource that will aid our community's organizers and advocates in navigating obtaining vaccinations."

Find the Toolkit here:

English: COVID-19 Disability Community Advocacy and Information Toolkit

Spanish: COVID-19 Kit con información de COVID-19 para comunidades de personas discapacitadas.

*Breaking news! We are excited to share that DREDF has been selected as the Parent Training & Information Center for 27 new  Northern CA Counties! To see which counties are included, go to: Connect with our Education Advocates.

General Links:

DREDF Special Education Training Materials

Parent Training Centers: A Free Resource

Find Your Parent Training and Information Center

Sample Letters (Multiple Topics)

DREDF eNews and Special EDitions:

Special EDitions

Archived eNews & Special EDitions


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