In a case concerning service interruptions to special education students due to COVID-19 school closures, an administrative law judge determined that a claim for compensatory services must be dismissed where those services were actually offered and used. 

In A.L. v. Ringwood Board of Education, a student sought compensatory services for an interruption in speech and reading services due to the March 16 statewide COVID-19 closure of schools. Prior to the closure, the student was receiving speech therapy once a week in a small group, and reading-specialist services twice a week in a small group, in accordance with the IEP.  The student sought compensatory services for the time when services were allegedly not provided by the district. 

The administrative law judge found that while there had been an interruption in services due to the closures, the district adjusted by providing services remotely and offered additional services to compensate for any services missed.  The judge noted that remote services were specifically authorized by the N.J. Department of Education on April 1, 2020 in a change to the regulations which provided, “During an extended public health-related school closure, related services may be provided through telemedicine and telehealth or through electronic communications, which include virtual, remote, or other online platforms, as appropriate and as required by the student’s IEP to the greatest extent possible.” 

Initially, there was a disagreement between the student and the district regarding whether a signed waiver form indemnifying the district would be required.  It was the dispute over the signed consent form that led to the filing of the due process petition. However, on May 1, 2020, the NJDOE issued a statewide directive that districts could no longer require signed consent forms as a condition to receive services. 

The judge noted that the student received speech therapy remotely 12 times from the end of March through June.  The student received five compensatory speech sessions during the extended school year over the summer.  The student was also offered additional services during the summer, which were refused. 

The judge concluded that the student had already received or been offered the services that he was seeking and the district fulfilled its obligations in the IEP during the time in question.  The administrative law judge dismissed the case against the district. 

For further information about this case, please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254 or your board attorney. 

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