Back to School
Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid
Students and families have had a lot to deal with during the pandemic—school closures, online learning, and IEPs that needed to be adapted. In addition, many families had to deal with loss of income, loss of child care, loss of housing, as well as social isolation, and perhaps the illness or death of family members and friends. Things appear to be getting better, and it is likely that schools will generally be open for in-person classes in the fall of 2021. However, some issues related to the pandemic may remain.
Students in Regular Education
Iowa public schools test students to monitor their progress. A variety of standardized tests are used. One test measures reading and math performance in elementary school. It showed that kids in Iowa lost ground from the spring of 2020 (when the pandemic hit) until the fall of 2020—an average decline of 8.7% in literacy for Iowa. If a child falls below a certain point in two consecutive tests, the school will provide extra help for the child. Some schools are providing extra help for students even if they score above the line. Check your school’s website or talk to a counselor, teacher or principal about what your school is offering. An article in the Des Moines Register has more information about these issues: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2021/05/10/iowa-school-hiring-academic-interventionists-covid-19-pandemic-learning-loss-cares-act/4855800001/
Students in Special Education
The lack of regular, full-time instruction during the spring of 2020 and during the 2020—2021 school year poses problems for all students. But for students in special education, the problems may be even more severe. The loss of previously acquired skills and abilities may be an issue. Students may not have achieved the goals set forth in the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program). It may be possible for students who receive special education to receive “recovery services.” If parents ask about recovery services, the IEP team should consider whether recovery services will be provided.
For more information about “recovery services,” see: https://educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/COVID-19%20Recovery%20Services%20for%20Learners%20Receiving%20IDEA%20Services%20FAQ%20%28Updated%20February%202021%29.pdf
If parents disagree with the school about recovery services or other issues for their child, they can appeal the decision. Resources include: https://disabilityrightsiowa.org/ and https://iowalegalaid.org as well as https://www.askresource.org/?page_id=27
Families who Lost Their Housing: The McKinney Vento Act
During the pandemic, some families may have lost their housing. As a result, they may have had to “double up” with family members or friends. Some families may have gone to a shelter, or transitional housing. Some families may have had to live in a campground, or in another place not suitable as a permanent living space. In order to find adequate housing, some families may have had to split up, with some children staying with another family. All of these situations may cause difficulty if the family tries to enroll the children in the school they used to attend, or if someone other than a parent or guardian tries to enroll the children. The McKinney Vento Act is a federal law that applies to people in these types of situations.
This Act allows school-aged children to:
• Stay in the same school.
• Get free transportation to school, even across district lines.
• Immediately enroll in school without education records, immunization records, or proof of residency.
• Participate fully in school activities, including afterschool programs.
• Get free school meals.
• Receive a variety of other educational services.
Contact your school district’s homeless liaison for help. You can appeal a denial of services. Your child must be allowed to enroll while the appeal is ongoing.
Resource: https://iowalegalaid.org or https://educateiowa.gov/pk-12/every-student-succeeds-act/essa-guidance-and-allocations/mckinney-vento-homeless-education
Waiver of School Fees
Iowa requires school districts to have a policy waiving fees for low-income families. The policy must allow for fee waivers if the student’s family meets the financial eligibility criteria for free meals offered under the Child Nutrition Program, or the Family Investment Program (FIP), or transportation assistance under open enrollment
provided under 281—subrule 17.9(3), or if the student is in foster care. Even if the family did not qualify for a fee waiver in the past, it may now. There are also partial waivers, and temporary waivers.
The waiver rules apply to “course offerings and related activities.” This includes technology fees, such as a fee for a chrome book.