10 Tips on Using Tele-Practice for Students with Disabilities

May 19, 2020

Precautionary response to circumvent the impact of COVID-19 has displaced K-12 students nationwide from normal school activities. As a result, millions of families and students were expected to quickly adjust to home-based continuous learning opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education provided a Covid Fact Sheet (PDF) stating if schools choose to provide learning opportunities that those must be fully extended to all students including those with disabilities. The guidance further reiterated that regardless of the type of continuous learning opportunity offered by districts, students with disabilities must still be afforded a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This includes any related service deemed necessary to help students with disabilities benefit from special education and ultimately, to access a FAPE. These services, provided to the student at no cost, may include transportation, speech-language pathology, audiology services, occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), counseling services including rehabilitation counseling, interpreting services, psychological services, recreation, and several other services as defined IDEA §300.34(c). During these times of school closure, special education teams may turn to tele-practice as one of the only methods available to provide much needed therapies

What is Tele-Practice?

Using telecommunications technology, students can meet with their service providers during a scheduled session via an audio or video connection without either party needing to travel to another location if they have reliable access to the Internet. The two main mechanisms for tele-practice are commonly referred to as synchronous and asynchronous (also known as “store and forward”). Although virtual schools have used tele-practice for students for quite some time, brick and mortar special education teams may be new to this approach.

10 Tips to determine if tele-practice is appropriate for the provision of related services to students with special needs.

To make tele-practice safe, effective, and appropriate based on the student’s needs and condition the IEP Team needs to KNOW:

1. Requirements of the practice setting.

2. Student’s context and environment.

3. Nature and complexity of the intervention/therapy.

4. Training required for in-home aide.

Additionally, the IEP Team needs to CONFIRM:

1. The tele-service provider adheres to all professional tele-practice ethics, standards, policies, and positions.

2. The provider adheres to licensure and certification requirements (state by state).

3. There will be access and expertise with high quality appropriate (and accessible) technology in the home environment.

4. Assessment tools and methods are valid and can be successfully applied online.

5. Thorough documentation practices and legal, professional record-keeping practices will be maintained and made available for IEP Team meetings.

6. A high degree of privacy, confidentiality, and security will be ensured through the use of secure videoconference platforms.


Two additional sources of information from the U.S. Department of Education are:

Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students (PDF)

Supplemental Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities (PDF)