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Contingency Learning Plans (CLPs): What Are CLPs? Why Make Them? How to Respond?
by Pete & Pam Wright

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"Our district is developing 'contingency learning plans' for children with IEPs. The information in my child's CLP was incorrect. According to the CLP, I had 'no concerns about distance learning' (not true) and I have 'not responded to communication' from the school' (not true). The CLP is misleading because it includes services the school is not providing."

questioning woman

We are receiving questions from parents about "contingency learning plans." When we started digging, we had questions about these plans too!

What are Contingency Learning Plans? Why Make Them?

Let's start with definitions. "Contingency Plan" is a term used in risk management to mitigate a risk that could have unwelcome or serious consequences.

After COVID-19 closed schools, school districts were concerned that they could not provide the services in children's IEPs. Some State Departments of Education encouraged or allowed school districts to create a new type of document called a Contingency Learning Plan (CLP).

A Contingency Learning Plan is the district's (unilateral) offer of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Contingency Learning Plans are IEPs that were amended by the district and are presented as the district's "good faith effort" to provide a FAPE.[1]

Who develops CLPs? Are parents involved in making decisions about their child's Contingency Learning Plan?

After reading about Contingency Learning Plans on the websites of several State Departments of Education, it was clear that the rules for developing CLPs differ from one state to another. All states do not offer or encourage Contingency Learning Plans.

In some States, a teacher, a case manager, or another member of the child's IEP team develops the Contingency Learning Plan.

While most State Departments of Education stress the need to "consult with parents and providers," parents report that their child's school did not consult with them before creating a Contingency Learning Plan for their child. These parents learned about the CLP when they received a copy of the plan by mail or email.

Problems with Contingency Learning Plans
Contingency Learning Plans are not developed by the child's IEP team that includes the parent. Parents are often shut out of the process which defeats a major purpose of the special education law relating to parental participation.

If the school implements a CLP, what happens to the child's IEP?

Good question. In some states, after the school district creates a Contingency Learning Plan, they drop the child's IEP. (but may pick it back up after the school year ends). Confused yet?

A sample CLP developed by a Michigan school district contains this language:

"During the public health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will implement this Contingency Learning Plan for your Student. Once school resumes, this plan will expire and the current programs and services outlined in the Individualized Education Plan will continue."[2]

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal special education law, does not permit schools to stop implementing a child's IEP or to replace the IEP with a "Contingency Learning Plan" that was not developed by the child's IEP team.

A few weeks ago, the U.S. U.S. Secretary of Education weighed in on "waivers" of IDEA legal requirements. She chose to not request waivers to children's rights to free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

Guidance from State DOEs?

Some states offer clear guidance about the purpose and limits on Contingency Learning Plans.

Texas: Special Education Emergency Contingency Plans

One term Texas uses is a "Special Education Emergency Contingency Plan." We found interesting documents on the Texas (TEA) website, including an impressive FAQs document, "COVID-19 FAQ: Special Education Emergency Contingency Plan, April 3, 2020"

"The Special Education Emergency Contingency Plan may be used to document the temporary special education services that are feasible and safe to provide to an individual student while a local education agency (LEA) is closed but continuing to provide instruction ... [While] information recorded in this document may come from the student's individualized education program (IEP), this form is not intended to serve as, or to replace, the most recent IEP agreed upon by the student's admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee."

"Without documented parent/guardian agreement under 34 CFR §300.324 to amend the student's IEP, this form should not be considered a fulfillment of an IDEA requirement."

According to the Texas FAQs, an Emergency Contingency Plan may be used to document services that will be provided so this is clear to parents/guardians and educators and to help the ARD committee (IEP team) determine what, if any compensatory services will be provided to the student when school reopens.

School districts "... must coordinate with a student's parents/guardians in the completion of this document, and it must be individualized for each student."

"Parents/Guardians can provide information about preferred types of activities that work well in engaging their child at home; therefore, collaboration could include conversations about the need for telephone consultations, teleconference meetings, days, times and methods for providing instruction, etc."

"Once the plan is developed, it is important that a student's educators and family continually communicate to adapt and adjust the plan based on the student's ongoing needs."

Good job, Texas!


Michigan: Guidance for Compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Guidance on the Michigan DOE site was confusing and contradictory.

The Michigan DOE urges school districts to develop "Continuity of Learning Plans" to describe how the district will provide educational instruction to all students.

The Michigan DOE also urges school districts to develop "Contingency Learning Plans" for students who have IEPs. We noted that the description of a "Contingency Learning Plan" is identical to the legal description of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in the IDEA. (34 CFR 300.320(a)(4); see page 246 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Ed.). Any thoughts about why that may be?

"The child's IEP team is encouraged to develop an individualized contingency learning plan to enable the child to ...

(1) advance appropriately toward attaining the child's annual IEP goals;
(2) be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum
(3) participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
(4) be educated and participate with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. [See Question 2 in Michigan Guidance for Compliance with the IDEA]

Why does a school district want to create a "Contingency Learning Plan" that is essentially the same as an IEP? Why create two documents when one is sufficient? Yes, think about this question. Remember litigation and risk management?

We were confused by Michigan's blunt answer to a question about amending IEPs.

Q: Should IEPs be amended in response to services in the IEP not being provided during an extended school closure?

A. No. Districts are encouraged to use a contingency learning plan which lays out the "special education and related services the district is able to provide in light of the circumstances."

No? The Michigan DOE is advising school districts to NOT amend IEPs? Why should a school district create Contingency Learning Plans to "lay out the special education and related services the school district is able to provide in light of the circumstances"? Why can't the district amend the child's IEP "in light of the circumstances"? Fear of litigation?

Steps to Take if You Disagree

To Parents: If or when you get a Contingency Learning Plan, you need to read it. Correct errors, add your thoughts about what the school is actually providing (and not providing). Advise the school (in writing!) that you will not accept their plan until they make these corrections. You may want to provide your thoughts about the benefits of amending the curent IEP instead of creating another new document category - the last thing special education needs.

To make life a little easier, we created a Sample Letter to Document a Problem: Contingency Learning Plan (CLP), Amending an IEP, Requesting an IEP Meeting. You can tailor the letter to reflect your child's needs and circumstances.


[1] See Learning at a Distance Guidance, page 17. Published by the Michigan Department of Education (April 2020).

[2] See Special Education Contingency Learning Plan, Gratiot-Isabella RESD.

Created: 05/14/20
Revised: 00/00/00

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