Q: We are transitioning into the first four weeks of the school year by providing virtual instruction to all of our ISD students. Does this remote instruction satisfy a special education student’s homebound placement?
A: No. Homebound services refer to an educational placement at home or in a hospital when such placement is the least restrictive environment (LRE) for students with disabilities who receive special education and related services. Homebound services are governed, in part, by the Texas Administrative Code Section 89.63. Homebound services are not to be confused with homebound instruction, which is available to all students who require instruction in the home due to a temporary disabling condition for an acute injury, such as COVID-19.
An Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee determines whether a homebound instructional setting (homebound services) is appropriate to meet the needs of an individual student with disabilities. Homebound services are available to students six years of age or older who meet the following criteria: 1) the student is eligible for special education and related services; 2) the student is expected to be confined at home or hospital bedside for a minimum of four weeks (consecutive weeks not required); 3) the student is confined at home or hospital for medical reasons and 4) the student’s medical condition is documented by a licensed physician in the United States. Typically, an ARD committee considers students with severe immune deficiencies or suffering from chronic disease resulting in extreme fatigue as appropriate recipients for homebound services.
A district’s decision to provide continuity of instruction through virtual learning, exclusively, or as an option, should have minimal impact on students with disabilities who receive special education and related services in a homebound instructional setting. If an ARD committee has determined that a student’s LRE in the homebound educational setting is appropriate, a change of placement in a student’s IEP based on the district’s transition to virtual instruction is not required; nor, is the district required to change the student’s educational instructional code as long as instruction and services remain the same and are provided by virtual means through the district and not through the Texas Virtual School Network (TXVSN). Additional guidance on proper coding for special education students and waiver requirements is available in Section 12.3.4 of the Student Attendance Accounting Handbook (SAAH) on Remote Homebound Instruction.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, an ARD committee may have provided homebound services by a certified special education teacher through remote learning or in-person visits based on the student’s ability to attend school intermittently. Now, amid the pandemic, the ARD committee should also consider guidance and safety and health protocols from the CDC, the Texas Education Agency, local health authorities, and district policy in determining the delivery of homebound services. First, given the limitations that hospitals have placed on non-family visits, the ARD committee should be aware of medical facility visitation policies and determine whether in-person visits would be practical, even if allowed by a medical facility. Declining to follow a student’s IEP (individualized education program), even due to pandemic challenge is not an option, so the district must proceed prudently. Districts should strive to provide the amount of instruction time and services consistent with the ARD committee’s decision in the IEP. Second, for students who receive homebound services in their residence, the reasonableness of in-home visits by teachers and service providers should be seriously balanced, if permitted by policy. Input from the student’s physician may prove instrumental in developing the delivery of instruction and services. It is paramount that the ARD committee considers the input of parents and caretakers, who are also committee members, to determine the best way to meet the individual needs of students. To the extent possible, the ARD committee should assess the needs of the student and their respective households and adapt accordingly to deliver instruction and related services. The ARD committee may consider the utility of alternative delivery mechanisms such as the utilization of (or change in) assistive technology to achieve the goals of the IEP; assistive technology may require additional parental assistance. The ARD committee should work collaboratively to seek creative solutions in how to limit the potential health risks involved with in-person visits for students and for transitioning students to on-campus operations, if appropriate. Since several factors including the longevity and severity of the pandemic in public schools remain uncertain, districts should stay flexible.
For some districts, the 2020-2021 school year has already resumed. If current circumstances prevent the delivery of instruction or related services in any manner for recipients of homebound services, the ARD committee must document the reasons for the inability to follow a student’s IEP and continue to monitor a student’s progress. Ultimately, the ARD committee may need to determine that compensatory services are required due to an interruption of instruction or services. For specific questions or additional information regarding homebound services, please contact your local school attorney.