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When Can Special Education Students Return To On-Site School in California?

Posted by Paul Hefley | Aug 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

Both Orange and San Diego counties are currently off the COVID-19 watch list and could possibly be eligible to reopen within weeks. But this is a local decision. And no news has come out yet regarding what either county or school districts within the two counties intend to do. In the meantime, there may be a short-term plan for California's most vulnerable students, particularly those requiring in-person support and services that can't be practically provided through distance learning.

The California Department of Public Health released new guidance this week which gives school districts the ability to resume onsite instruction under strict guidelines, if they so choose. Under the new guidance, students can return for on-site instruction in small, self-contained groups, called "cohorts." A cohort is a stable group of no more than 14 children or youth and no more than two supervising adults. The supervising adults and children must stay together for all activities, including meals and recreation. One-to-one specialized services (i.e., occupational therapy, speech and language services, etc.) can be provided to a child or youth by a support service provider that is not part of the child or youth's cohort. No co-mingling of cohorts is allowed. But, cohorts can be subdivided. For example, a cohort that has an adult-to-student ratio of 14:2 would be allowed to split into two groups with a ratio of 7:1.

About the Author

Paul Hefley

Paul is an experienced litigator and trial attorney. He has litigated special education cases in the California Office of Administrative Hearings, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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