VIA and Partners Address Needs of Special Ed. Students During and After COVID

VIA and Partners Address Needs of Special Ed. Students During and After COVID

In a letter to state officials, the Virginia Institute of Autism together with national advocacy organization Autism Speaks, as well as the Virginia Autism Foundation, the Virginia Autism Project, the Faison Center, and the Virginia Association for Behavior Analysis have outlined some of the key issues for families with special needs to feel safe and be supported during and after closure.

The letter is addressed to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as well as to the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Education, and Transportation. It highlights the need for state leadership to guarantee the tuition payments to specialty schools like VIA that serve students with some of the most severe social and behavioral and communications needs. The letter also outlines the need for state-level attention to the challenge of skills loss, and the special educational and behavioral challenges felt by the families of children with autism.

Click to view and download a PDF of the letter. The full text is printed below:


Governor Ralph Northam

cc: Secretary Daniel Carey, Secretary Atif Qarni, Secretary Aubrey Layne

Re: Special Education Requests Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic Dear Governor Northam,

We write to express our gratitude for your leadership on behalf of our community. Through the years, your commitment to access to private health insurance coverage for Virginians diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder has benefited our population in extremely beneficial ways.

School closures are difficult for everyone, and they are especially challenging for many individuals on the autism spectrum for whom continued access to basic supports and services as well as adherence to routines and schedules is particularly important.

We write to respectfully request the following, most for which funding could be tapped from the Congressionally-appropriated Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Fund under Sec. 18002(c)(1) and (3) and Sec. 18003(d), as may be needed:

— Services that will address regression happening over the COVID period by individuals with autism – require resuming in person as soon as possible after Virginia’s school closure period, including over the summer. Included should be the full range of individualized special education services, including but not limited to the following:

Academic instruction;

Behavioral supports;

Related supports, which may include transportation, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, physical therapy, applied behavior analysis, augmentative and alternative communication, postsecondary transition services, any other related service indicated on each student’s current individualized education program.

— Direction from the governor to localities to continue to honor their existing contracts with private day special education schools. Continuing to honor these obligations will not require any additional funding as these contracts have already been budgeted at the state and local levels, at their respective match rates.

By honoring existing contracts (including both the rate and service calendar), private special education day schools will be able to:

continue to provide remote, highly specialized, student instruction and family support throughout the COVID crisis;

continue to employ the highly trained staff needed to serve students with autism enrolled in these programs once the COVID crisis passes.

Private day-schools, which serve some of the most vulnerable of the autism community in Virginia, are laying off staff as the existing contracts are not honored. Note that these students have been placed at private day schools pursuant to their respective individualized education plans (IEP) as developed by their IEP team. Community Policy and Management Teams (CPMTs) and CSAs are not involved in the IEP development process and are not in the position to redefine IEPs during the COVID-19 crisis. Rather, Virginia Code 2.2-5200 requires CPMTs and CSAs to look to the school personnel in their locality that know the student regarding the educational personnel’s request to ensure necessary funding is available for these particularly vulnerable students.

— Transition service eligibility be extended by at least 12 months to allow for plans to accommodate missed services including early intervention transition to special education at age 3 as well transition out of special education at age 22.

— Direction to school districts across the state that they should undertake the following steps during the current period of school closure:

Remote provision of direct services as defined in current individualized education plans;

Regular communication to parents of special education students, including ongoing updates as well as notification of and scheduling of remote services;

Not requesting IEP amendments simply due to the remote learning environment, but accepting virtual IEP meeting requests, as may be needed or helpful to the IEP team including the student and their family members.

Your leadership and action in this matter are deeply appreciated.


Judith Ursitti, CPA Director – State Government Affairs Autism Speaks

Mark Llobell, Chief Executive Officer Virginia Autism Foundation

Kate Fletcher, Board Member, Virginia Autism Project

Ethan S. Long, PhD, LBA, President, Virginia Institute of Autism

W. Brian McCann, Esq., President and CEO, The Faison Center