For over a decade, the Kinship Unit of the Center for Elder Law and Justice has represented non-parent caregivers of children in Erie and Niagara Counties. We represent caregivers on issues related not only to permanency, but also access to education.

Schools in New York officially closed on March 16, 2020, and will be closed for the remainder of this school year. Parents, caregivers, and educators have quickly adapted to remote learning, however we have seen difficulties with technology, reaching students who have limited access to internet and computers, child care for essential workers and parents and caregivers who work from home, and the struggle of the new role for parents and caregivers as teachers.

According to the New York State Education Department, there are over 2.6 million youth enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade statewide, with nearly 20% having a disability. Youth who have been identified as having special needs are able to receive special instruction and services through a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Some services that students can receive include additional time to take tests, smaller classroom sizes, or additional instructors or other staff in the classroom. Some students receive therapies such as speech, occupation, or physical therapy. Many of these students also attend school during the summer months to help with behaviors and ensure they maintain skills.

With remote instruction our new reality for the foreseeable future, educators and service providers must be creative to continue to meet students’ needs. IEPs and 504 plans are contracts between the student and their family and the school district, and parents and caregivers will likely need to advocate more than they have in the past to enforce the provisions of these plans to ensure students with disabilities are continuing to receive necessary services, and make progress rather than fall behind their peers.

The attorneys at CELJ represent caregivers and advocate for the children in their care to receive the most appropriate, tailored education that they are entitled to. If you are a non-parent caring for a child and need advocacy in working with your school district and board of special education, please contact our Kinship Unit at 878-9297. For general questions, please contact our legal advice helpline at 844-481-0973.

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