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Tips for Making and Evaluating Compensatory Education Proposals

Accessibility, Education

This blog post is the third post in a three-part series offering tips and information to support parents seeking compensatory education for their child because of the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our last post provided information about compensatory education and tips for gathering useful data to share with the school to support a compensatory education request. Today’s post discusses factors parents should consider when assessing the value of compensatory education to their child’s learning, and gives examples of ways compensatory education might be provided.

*To the extent safe and feasible, students should be provided the special education services in their current IEPs during school closures. ACDL recommends that parents work with schools on developing creative ways to deliver specially designed instruction and related services to students during school closures. Any services that cannot be provided during school closures may need to be addressed through compensatory education once it is safe for schools to reopen.

Compensatory education determinations must be individualized, so every child’s compensatory education services will look different. Compensatory education can be provided in a variety of ways, and as long as parents and school agree, can be creative solutions to aiding your child in gaining the educational benefit they lost during the school closure.

Factors to Consider

There are several factors parents should consider when thinking about what type of compensatory education will be appropriate for their child.

  • When will compensatory education be provided? It should not be delivered when the child is involved in other learning opportunities or in a manner that feels like a punishment. When will it be convenient for the student and the student’s family? When will it be convenient for the school and providers? Will it impact the student’s need for transportation to and from school? Think about when your child is most able to focus. Would compensatory services before school be effective because your child is most alert in the mornings? Or would adding more learning hours to the school day result in mental fatigue and negative behaviors in the afternoon? Would providing services in small segments spread out over several months make the most sense, or would your child learn better in a few longer sessions provided over a few weeks?
  • Think about how your child learns best. Is your child most successful in one-on-one settings? If so, would 1 hour of one-on-one compensatory services be more effective than 2 hours of small group compensatory services? If your child’s IEP states that services can be provided by an aide, but the school is offering a certified special education teacher to provide those services as part of a compensatory education program, would fewer hours be needed to have the same impact?
  • Are your child’s needs constantly changing? Is your child nearing an educational milestone, like preparing to graduate or change schools? If so, it may be important that compensatory services be flexible or be provided after the event occurs. An educational fund could provide that flexibility, and the value of the flexibility might mean you are willing to accept a smaller amount of compensatory education in the fund.

What will compensatory education look like for my child?

School provided services outside of regular school day. For some students, compensatory services may be provided over the summer, on weekends, or before or after school. Keep in mind that compensatory education is different from extended school year services, and some students may need both.

Example: Malik’s IEP calls for 120 minutes of reading and writing special education per day. Malik received some specially designed instruction in reading and writing during COVID-19 school closures, but not the amount listed in his IEP, and he has regressed significantly. Malik’s school proposes to provide him with 20 hours (1200 minutes) of compensatory reading/writing special education services over the course of 10 days this summer. Malik will come to school for two hours each day for ten days to receive intense one-on-one instruction specially designed to help him progress towards his IEP goals.

Private provider/program. In some situations, the parent may wish to explore with the school whether an outside provider can deliver compensatory services. Private providers may have more scheduling availability than schools, or may be able to provide a therapy or education program the school does not offer. Parents and schools can explore private providers in their area and may agree that the school will pay a private provider’s fees to deliver a set amount of compensatory services to a student.

Example: Clark’s educational placement is in a therapeutic classroom with a high teacher-to-student ratio. Clark receives a full day of special education and related services, including a one-on-one aide, behavior support, and adapted physical education. During school closures, Clark’s teachers tried to provide him with instruction and related services through a videoconferencing platform, but Clark exhibited challenging behaviors related to his disability during the services that prevented him from benefiting from this attempt at distance learning. Clark’s parent has found an equine therapy program designed for children with disabilities similar to Clark’s. The therapy program offers a three week “summer camp,” where children come in daily to work with therapists and interact with horses. Clark’s school has agreed to pay for this summer program to provide Clark with compensatory education.

Compensatory education fund. Parents and schools may agree to set up a compensatory education fund, in which the school will agree to place a sum of money that parents can use to pay for specified compensatory education services. A school might be interested in this option if it does not have in-house capacity to directly meet a student’s compensatory education needs, or if it is not possible to find private providers currently available to provide all of the proposed compensatory services. Keep in mind that someone will have to monitor the fund to make sure that the money is used for its intended purpose. If the school district monitors it, there may be disputes later about what the money can be used for. If an independent person monitors it, that person will have to be paid, which will reduce the money available to help the student. Families should also make sure they fully understand the impact a fund like this might have on the student’s government benefits and any tax implications for the family.

Example:   Sabine is 21 years old and will age out of special education eligibility at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. She attends a small school in a rural area that does not have enough teachers or therapists available to provide her with compensatory services, and there are no private providers in her area with availability right now either. Because Sabine may age out before she is able to be provided compensatory education, her school has decided to create a fund for her to use toward compensatory education and related services. The school will set aside $3,000 that Sabine can use over the next 5 years toward those services. When Sabine identifies a private provider she wants to use, she will direct that provider to bill the school district directly for the services. To avoid conflict down the road, Sabine and the school enter into a written agreement about what types of services this fund can be used for and the process by which providers will be paid.

Extending a student’s special education eligibility. A student is eligible for special education until the student graduates with a regular high school diploma or ages out at the end of the school year in which the student turns 22 years old. One way to provide compensatory education is to continue to provide special education and related services to the student beyond the time they would normally no longer be eligible.

Example:   Let’s look at Sabine again. Sabine is 21 years old and will age out of special education eligibility at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. She attends a small school in a rural area that does not have enough teachers or therapists available to provide her with compensatory services, and there are no private providers in her area with availability right now either. Because Sabine may age out before she is able to be provided compensatory education, her school has decided to extend her special education eligibility by ten weeks. This means, even though Sabine will be 22 years old before the end of the 2020-2021 school year, she will be able to continue to attend school and receive a free appropriate public education for ten weeks of the following school year.

The list of compensatory education options above is not exhaustive—there are many ways to provide compensatory education to a student, and schools and families can work together to develop creative solutions.

Four Key Tips

  1. Don’t wait to hear whether your child’s school will offer for compensatory education and if so, what services they may offer. Spend time now thinking about what you believe your child will need to make up for lost learning and educational regression during COVID-19 school closures.
  2. Talk with your child’s outside providers (such as behavioral health providers or Division of Developmental Disabilities support coordinators) to see if they have ideas for how compensatory education could be effectively delivered to your child.
  3. Research available resources in your community before meeting with the school. Look for private therapists, tutors, and therapeutic programs. Ask about application procedures, availability, costs, and wait lists.
  4. Develop a proposal (and alternative proposals) to take to the meeting with you.


When looking for private providers in your community, you can conduct an internet search or ask other parents or providers for referrals. This search engine allows you to look for providers by category and city.

Magazines like Raising Arizona Kids regularly publish lists of programs and camps designed for students with disabilities.

Raising Special Kids may also be able to refer you to providers or programs in your area.

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