COVID-19 has catapulted us all into a new reality: Workplaces are closed, social distancing is the “new normal,” and kitchen tables have replaced classrooms. The sudden shift from in-person to online learning has not been easy for all parents and kids. And for those who are entitled to (and depend upon) specialized instructional services and supports to deal with disabilities, the transition is even more complicated.

FAQs

Answer:
With many districts closing their school buildings, some educators are moving to a fully virtual learning experience, while others are trying to effectively reach students through optional enrichment opportunities. No matter which path the district is taking, educators are being thrust into an unfamiliar teaching environment that requires new skills and different approaches to effectively serve students. Most educators teaching in an online setting report having received little or no training in online teaching. Successfully making the shift will require:

  • Proactive planning to serve the full range of learners. Some students will be fully ready for online learning and will have easy access to the internet and devices at home. Others will struggle with a new daily routine. Some will experience food insecurity. Some will have limited access to the internet or to a device (e.g., a laptop, tablet, or Chromebook). Just as they do in the classroom, educators must tailor their approach to meet the needs of all learners. Educators should scaffold their teaching and ensure that their lessons are designed in accordance with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), offering multiple ways for students to engage. They should consider what built-in supports are available through technology. And they should maintain the same high standards and expectations for all students.
  • Increased collaboration and communication among educators and service providers. Educators will need to consider and assess the needs of students who are adapting to their new learning environments. Accommodations that worked for a student in the classroom may not be effective at home. Education professionals must meet to evaluate needs and work together to make appropriate adjustments.
  • Increased capacity and skills of educators. Educators may be required to deliver instruction in new ways—either virtually or over the phone—and will need support to do so effectively. Schools should use existing funding within Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act to provide training and tools to educators who are serving students with disabilities. In addition, schools must use the funding that districts will receive through the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) to address equity and improve educator capacity to provide distance education and virtual learning.

What This Might Look Like in Practice

“Schoolwide internal communications take place daily with Office 365 featured tips and other helpful updates. Our special education coordinator checks in with individual special educators, school psychologists, and administrative assistants, all on videoconferences, to learn about the students we are concerned about, students needing referral for medical or mental health needs, transition plans, and more.” — Colleen Meaney, Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, Devens, MA

“I’ve been sending daily emails consolidating tasks students should be working on for the day and which teachers will be online when. As a school team, we’re working to develop a lesson for our students on executive functioning/planning skills and navigating multiple online platforms.” — Jessi Stein, Envision Academy Middle Grades, Oakland, CA

What This Might Look Like in Policy

Soon after the COVID-19 crisis started, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) created a short survey to assess each district’s capacity to consider online learning while the staff and students work and learn remotely. The ODE connected with education partners and philanthropic organizations to support district efforts during these challenging times. Responses from the survey allowed them to collectively determine what is needed and how to provide necessary supports to close gaps in opportunity and access for students and families across the state.

Answer:
Providing quality and specialized instruction or related services from a distance can be challenging. While technology makes much of it possible (such as small group instruction or 1:1 instruction), some related services can only be provided in person. Districts should strive to provide the same instruction and services to students to the greatest extent possible using technology. This will require:

 

  • Determining a student’s family situation and readiness to learn from home. Educators should reach out to families to find out what capabilities they have and whether they’re ready for virtual learning. Not every family will have access to the internet or to a device that can connect to the internet. For those students, school districts should prioritize getting them connected through the use of Wi-Fi hotspots and devices. If it’s not possible to connect the student to the internet at this time, districts should have a plan to continue to provide other educational opportunities through pencil-and-paper activities, workbooks, worksheets, and more, until connectivity is achieved.
  • Innovation in how specialized instruction and related services are provided. Many services can be provided virtually, including speech-language therapy, certain instructional interventions, and mental health counseling. Schools might use stimulus funds to contract with private providers (such as counselors, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and more) to provide services to students, thus increasing the capacity of the district to meet their students’ needs.

    There are also innovative options for providing services that must be done in person. First and foremost, schools must comply with local orders relating to group gatherings and CDC guidance. Safety is everyone’s first priority. However, when and if small gatherings are allowed once again and safe space is available, districts can consider offering in-home services or 1:1 or small group instruction and services to students most in need, while remaining in compliance with local health department directives.
  • A determination about the compensatory services a student will need and a plan for providing those as soon as possible. The services a student receives virtually may not be as comprehensive as those they had been receiving. Schools must recognize this and plan for the provision of compensatory services. In other words, schools must do everything in their power to provide FAPE now—as many services as they can given the circumstances—with a goal of making the student whole again through compensatory services as soon as they are able. To do this, schools will need to evaluate the student’s current level of need upon returning to school, determine which services are needed, and implement a plan for those services to be provided as soon as feasible. Districts can consider making extended school year services available to students who have been most disadvantaged during this crisis. Or districts might provide more frequent or intensive services when schools resume normal operations.

 

What This Might Look Like in Practice

“We are using online platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts to get all teachers from across the network together and working collaboratively. We are working with service providers like speech and counseling to determine which platforms are HIPAA compliant to provide distance services and can be accessed by students. IEPs are running via Zoom.” — Jessi Stein, Envision Academy Middle Grades, Oakland, CA

Some students are pitching in, and even teacher candidates can get involved:

“I have a group of students that are pitching in to read materials aloud in energetic, clear, human voices [to be used] for other students that may have difficulty reading. Teachers can request these readings to post in their Google Classrooms. … [S]tudents record videos to help other students who need support in math where they show multiple ways to work through problems. It’s all driven by students who are conscious of problems with access.” — Kim Eckert, Brusly High School, Baton Rouge, LA

“Most of the programs we use have an online component allowing us to track students’ usage and customize their learning. This is important since students who receive services are required to have individualized plans.” — Leticia Ingram, Basalt High School, Basalt, CO

There are also many free online learning tools tailored to students with disabilities, such as Bookshare. Bookshare is a free online library that makes reading easier for students with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers. Students can access over 800,000 e-books in formats like audio, audio plus highlighted text, braille, and large font. They can customize their experience to suit their individual learning style. Teachers can create free school accounts and easily and remotely assign books to students to read on their own. Parents can also sign students up for free (students 18 and over can sign themselves up) to access Bookshare independently at home. 

What This Might Look Like in Policy

Some states have already addressed this. Here are a few examples:

Example #1: California urges innovation and safety in the delivery of services. 

“If the LEA can continue providing special education and related services as outlined in the IEP, or an agreed upon amendment to the existing IEP, through a distance learning model, they should do so. … Further, LEAs are encouraged to work collaboratively with Nonpublic Schools and Agencies (NPS/As) to ensure continuity of services, including moving to virtual platforms for service delivery to the extent feasible and appropriate. These alternative delivery options should seek to comply with federal, state, and local health official’s guidance related to social distancing, with the goal of keeping students, teachers and service providers safe and healthy. Teachers and specialists should work collaboratively to ensure instruction is accessible for the student based on the student’s individualized needs.” 

Example #2: Texas prioritizes continued service delivery as well as compensatory services.

“Above all, LEAs should prioritize health and safety of students, staff, and communities. LEAs should identify and acknowledge service delivery limitations, as well as the need for LEAs to make reasonable efforts to fully implement a student’s IEP once school resumes. This requirement to “make every effort…” does not allow LEAs to decline all services to students with an IEP and only offer compensatory services at a later date…. LEAs should plan for effective communication with families regarding any services that cannot be provided during the COVID 19 pandemic response.” 

Example #3: Kansas recognizes that FAPE will be individualized for each student and will require virtual services.

“The school must ensure that each student with an exceptionality also has equal access to the same opportunities, including, to the greatest extent possible under these unprecedented circumstances, a free appropriate public education (FAPE). … In this unique and ever-changing environment, these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided. FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, through instructional materials sent home, or telephonically. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different during the time when a school is closed and implementing its Continuous Learning Plan.” 

Answer:
A change in location (where the student learns) does not necessarily constitute a change in placement under IDEA. However, it is likely that as students transition from the classroom setting to virtual learning, their needs will change. It may be necessary to make quick adjustments in an effort to serve students well and adapt during this difficult time. Keep in mind that for any amendments to the IEP, school teams must comply with federal requirements relating to parent participation. Frequent, clear, and meaningful communication is essential to family-school partnerships during this time.

If a student’s needs change, IEP teams should discuss with parents any needed amendments or changes to the IEP. The IEP may be changed to reflect new services or needed accommodations, but it must not be unilaterally amended by the IEP team. Instead, parents must be made aware of the requested changes and be part of the discussion as to whether those changes are appropriate. IDEA allows for amendments to be made to an IEP without hosting an IEP meeting as long as the parent and district agree to those amendments and a written document is created and attached to the IEP.

What This Might Look Like in Practice

In its calls for parent participation, IDEA requires schools to “take steps to ensure that one or both of the parents of a child with a disability are present at each IEP team meeting or are afforded the opportunity to participate.” However, IDEA also anticipates that parents may not always be able to participate in person, and allows for parents and public agencies to “agree to use alternative means of meeting participation, such as videoconferences and conference calls.” 

Some schools have already begun hosting IEP meetings by phone or video. This would require:

  • Outreach to parents to discuss how the change in a student’s educational environment will affect the student
  • An IEP meeting—by phone or videoconference—to discuss any needed amendments to the IEP, including the type or delivery of specialized instruction and related services, or the use of accommodations
  • An agreement between the members of the IEP team, including parents, to amend the IEP, even temporarily
  • An electronic signature from the parents or a verbal agreement that the changes are agreed to

What This Might Look Like in Policy

Example: Texas reaffirms the IEP amendment process and how virtual education will impact student needs.

Changes in services and accommodations may be made through the IEP amendment process. In many cases, instructional accommodations may be met in an online environment by providing additional supports, such as individualized telephone or video conferencing. LEAs should consider how current accommodations and modifications are provided in a physical classroom setting (i.e. extra time, redirection, small group, among others) and what this would look like in a virtual environment. 

A district’s Child Find obligation remains intact during this time. IDEA requires districts to identify, locate, and evaluate “all children with disabilities residing in the State … who are in need of special education and related services.” Parent consent is required in order to begin the evaluation process, and the evaluation must be completed within 60 days or within the timeline established by the State. 

What This Might Look Like in Practice

IDEA offers a great deal of flexibility within the evaluation process to enable school teams and parents to collaborate:

  • Schools can contact parents by phone or videoconference to receive consent to begin the evaluation process.
  • To the extent possible, and with the specific goals of the evaluation in mind, steps in the evaluation process should take place remotely. For those evaluations already in process, schools should gather as much information as is available and determine whether an eligibility decision can be made based on that.
  • In a situation where schools cannot gather adequate information or complete an in-person assessment, the school should contact the student’s parent and discuss a plan for completing the evaluation as soon as feasible. 
  • Re-evaluations, though required to be conducted every three years, can be waived by mutual consent of parents and the IEP team.
  • If a re-evaluation is necessary, IEP teams can consider existing data, current assessments, classroom observations from teachers in previous weeks, and parent input. 

What This Might Look Like in Policy

A few states have tackled this already. Here are some examples:

Example #1: Texas urges the use of technology in IEP meetings.

LEAs should also consider ways to use distance technology to the extent possible to provide child find, hold initial and annual ARD committee meetings, and/or evaluation/eligibility meetings, if the LEA members and parents are available but not able to attend in person. Continuing to complete ARD committee and evaluation/eligibility meetings will help decrease the workload when school resumes. If required members of the committee and/or parents are not available or believe their participation is impacted by the lack of an in-person meeting, LEAs should document the reason and complete the activity in a timely manner following the ending of school closures.” 

Example 2: California offers flexibility within compliance monitoring procedures.

“In general, for purposes of determining LEA compliance with special education timelines, the CDE will consider the days of school site closure as days between the pupil’s regular school session, similar to school breaks in excess of five days planned in the instructional calendar (e.g. Thanksgiving break). For annual or triennial IEP reviews that fall on a day when the LEA is closed due to COVID-19, the CDE will take the exceptional circumstances causing the delay into consideration for purposes of LEA compliance monitoring.” 

Example 3: Ohio will determine all students with evaluations in process to be eligible for special education.

“If the school was scheduled to conduct an evaluation team report review prior to the ordered school-building closure period but was unable to complete it, then consider the student eligible and provide services to students based on your school or district’s processes and procedures.” 

Answer:
Parent-teacher communication is critical to ensuring that the needs of students with disabilities are met during the COVID-19 crisis. Now more than ever, consistent and clear communication is essential. IDEA already requires parents to be involved in the planning and implementation of a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). How that is conducted is largely left up to schools—there’s a lot of flexibility given under the law.

Schools can use various types of electronic communication to meet their obligations, including videoconferences, phone calls, and emails. Many schools are already using virtual options to maintain the partnership between parents and teachers during school closures. It’s important to think of ways that educators can support parents through consultation, where parents can ask questions about how to support their children during distance learning and virtual learning. Providing parents with multiple options for this communication, such as videoconferences, phone calls, or message board posts in the appropriate language, will help address parents’ needs.

What This Might Look like in Practice

“Every course has a link to the online work. Families and students have one place to find everything. There was clear communication about the plan for week on;, student and teacher expectations were stated. Laptop, book, and related material pick-up times were made available two different days. Each special educator reached out to every one of their students with information about how to reach the educator and when. Educators follow up with students and parents each week to ensure students had the information they needed and could access their work. A note went home from the special education coordinator to every family with information about what to expect, how to access free internet if needed, and more.” — Colleen Meaney, Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, Devens, MA

“One teacher is providing recorded Foundations lessons for new readers or students with dyslexia that are short and engaging. It was so nice to see her teacher’s face, too, and it was easy for me as a parent to understand how to support my learner.” — Sarah Barnes, High Tech High, San Diego

What This Might Look Like in Policy

Here’s an example of how the Connecticut Department of Education urged districts to communicate proactively with families of students with disabilities:

“Acknowledge in your communications to all parents that either you have a plan for providing equitable access and special education and related services or are developing such a plan. Develop a protocol to communicate proactively with parents and guardians regarding their child’s IEP services during a closure taking into consideration the parents’ preferred method of communication. This should be done on an individual basis and school districts should not rely on communications to the entire district to provide this information. As soon as possible, notify parents or guardians of students with disabilities of your individualized plan for that student to access continued educational opportunities. Include the input of parents or guardians and the student, as appropriate, when discussing the plan. Allowing parents to provide feedback provides parents, and ultimately, students, a voice in the process, rather than simply notifying them of the result. This communication should be ongoing throughout the implementation of the plan so that the educators delivering and/or overseeing the services can make adjustments to the plan when appropriate.

Answer:
A parent’s right to due process remains intact during this time. However, IDEA offers a great deal of flexibility for parents and schools to mutually agree to waive specific requirements or timelines, particularly around evaluations, IEP development, and more. It’s essential for schools to clearly and consistently communicate with parents and articulate which services can be provided and how. If services cannot be provided adequately in an online setting, the school should document this unmet need and share with parents its plans for providing compensatory services. Schools should strive to provide appropriate services as soon as feasible under the circumstances. This collaboration and mutual understanding can decrease the likelihood of due process complaints.

What This Might Look Like in Policy

Example 1: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the New York State Department of Education issued guidance stating: “ … in an emergency situation where the acts of nature prevent a school district from meeting its IDEA requirements, the State will not issue findings of noncompliance to a school district because of its failure to meet these requirements when it is evident that they are the direct result of the State disaster emergency. It is expected that school districts will use such flexibility only to the extent and for the duration as absolutely necessary and consistent with the conditions they are facing to bring normalcy back to the education programs for their students with disabilities.”

Example 2: The Minnesota Department of Education reminded districts that they can work with parents to mutually extend the due process timeline: 

“When a parent files a due process complaint, the local education agency (LEA) must convene a resolution meeting within 15 days of receiving notice of the parent’s complaint, unless the parties agree in writing to waive the meeting or to use mediation. While the IDEA specifically mentions circumstances in which the 30-day resolution period can be adjusted, it does not prevent the parties from mutually agreeing to extend the timeline because of unavoidable delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, although a hearing decision must be issued and mailed to the parties 45 days after the expiration of the 30-day resolution period or an adjusted resolution period, a hearing officer may grant a specific extension of time at the request of either party to the hearing.”

Resources

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As an educator of students with a disabilitities, you may hear a lot of new terms being thrown around during the COVID-19 crisis. Education is notorious for having a lot of terms of art (what’s often called “eduspeak”). Here are definitions of some of those terms and their implications for students with disabilities.

Adaptive software

What it means: Adaptive software is any software or program that builds a model of the preferences, goals, and knowledge of each individual student and uses that model throughout the interaction with the student in order to adapt to that student’s assessed needs.

The implication for students with disabilities: Some adaptive software can adjust for the lexile (reading) level based on the student’s responses. Some programs have read-aloud features. It’s important to identify whether the software is adaptive to a particular student’s needs. For example, a child may struggle with decoding but excel at reading comprehension. If the software doesn’t allow the student to demonstrate proficiency in different aspects of learning, it could misinterpret the student’s skills, resulting in a reduction in grade level or content level. This would compromise the overall quality of the student’s education.

Accommodations

What it means: Accommodations are adaptations made for specific individuals with disabilities (as defined by law) when a product or service isn’t accessible.

The implication for students with disabilities: The accommodations a student with a disability needs in a virtual learning setting may be different from what would be appropriate in a typical classroom setting. For example, an accommodation for a student with ADHD in a physical classroom may be to be seated in a part of the room that reduces distractions (called “preferential seating”). In a virtual learning situation, reducing distraction might be achieved by adjusting the visual layout of what’s on a screen to help direct and sustain the student’s focus.

The IEP team—which includes educators, parents, the student, and others—should identify the accommodations a student currently receives based on the IEP, consider the purpose of these accommodations, and discuss how they need to be adjusted for an online setting.

Assistive technology

What it means: Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

The implication for students with disabilities: Assistive technology is designed to help individuals overcome challenges with particular tasks or in particular environments. When shifting from face-to-face to online learning, the types of assistive technologies that are most helpful may change. IEP teams should review how AT was used by students in school, and determine whether additional or alternative forms of assistive technology are needed in this new circumstance.

Asynchronous vs. synchronous instruction

What it means: Asynchronous instruction is teaching that is offered at a different place or time than when or where the actual instruction is being provided (e.g., video modules that students can access without being connected to an instructor or peers in real time). In contrast, synchronous instruction can happen in different locations, but it occurs at the same time that the instruction is being delivered. It’s delivered through methods such as real-time chats and videoconferencing.

The implication for students with disabilities: Students with disabilities in online environments can benefit from both of these types of instruction. But there are trade-offs with each, so the two modes are complementary.

Asynchronous instruction denies educators access to visual cues and doesn’t allow for real-time feedback to students. During synchronous instruction, students with disabilities may struggle to remain focused, organize information effectively, and keep track of questions for later reference.

Accessibility

What it means: Accessibility is the “ability to access” the functionality and benefit of some system or entity. This term is used to describe the degree to which a product (such as a device, a service, or an environment) is accessible by as many people as possible.” “Born accessible” (an ideal standard for accessibility) means that the origin and design of a product prevent the need for retrofitting inaccessible content after its creation, which can often be cost-prohibited in terms of time and resources.

The implication for students with disabilities: The creators of many education technologies that were conceived and used before COVID-19 likely didn’t envision the scale to which these tools have recently been deployed. This reality raises two issues related to accessibility: (1) physical accessibility to the software, hardware, and internet connection; and (2) pedagogical accessibility so that educators can leverage available technologies to deliver high-quality instruction and achieve learning goals for all students. Educators and vendors must work hand in hand to identify and address both types of accessibility issues within online and virtual learning settings.

Learning management system (LMS)

What it means: Learning management systems are electronic systems and methods that support the timely creation, scheduling, and delivery of course materials in education.

The implication for students with disabilities: In the absence of face-to-face contact between adults and students, districts and schools will have to rely more on an LMS than ever before. But an LMS designed to address the needs of whole school or district-wide instruction—as well as data collection—might not be inclusive or responsive to the needs of students with disabilities. It’s critical that schools immediately consider how their LMS addresses the need for accessibility and enables the delivery of content and needed support to students with disabilities. Also critical is for schools and districts to identify whether existing LMS need to be adapted to ensure that educators are well prepared to support student learning in an accessible manner. Schools should consult with vendors to integrate any add-ons that ensure the products serve multiple functions and meet the needs of all students. Schools will also need to communicate clearly with students and their families to ensure that everyone feels empowered to access and participate in high-quality learning.

Online learning

What it means: Also referred to as e-learning and virtual learning, online learning is a type of distance learning in which instruction and content are delivered primarily over the internet or through software.

The implication for students with disabilities: One new reality of COVID-19 is that the vast majority of students with disabilities who were previously attending brick-and-mortar schools are now learning in online settings. Schools, students, and families must contend with a number of challenges, ranging from the physiological (e.g., ensuring that students feel safe, have access to their social peers, and receive nutritious meals) to the pedagogical (e.g., ensuring that students have access to content learning and that teachers and students communicate via phone, chats, and other online features).

Open education resources

What it means: Open education resources (OER) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license (free for public use).

The implication for students with disabilities: COVID-19 has resulted in parents and educators scrambling to identify resources that could be helpful to accelerate learning in an online and home-based environment. One caution is that many of these resources are not aligned with principles of Universal Design for Learning, or UDL (see below). The OER field is diverse in both quality and accessibility. Many major textbook publishers have already begun to make changes to products to reflect UDL standards. Schools, districts, and educators should determine whether a particular OER is appropriate for students with disabilities. If it’s not, it’s important to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure that these students can access and benefit from OER materials.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What it means: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way to optimize teaching to effectively instruct a diverse group of learners. The approach is based on insights from the science of how people learn. It emphasizes accessibility in how students access material, engage with it, and show what they know.

The implication for students with disabilities: UDL can be applied to educational settings that are in-person or virtual. To engage all learners, educators must align instruction, materials, and technology with principles of UDL. The specific learning platform being used to organize and deliver content and activities will need to have built-in features of UDL, such as allowing students to access and represent learning in different ways. Educators will also need instruction and support about ways to incorporate features of UDL into their online instruction.  

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As schools close doors in response to COVID-19, you should be aware of key laws that protect a student’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and existing frameworks that can support accessibility. Schools will inevitably need to change the way they provide instruction and services—and might even need to resort to providing compensatory services for students with disabilities. But students’ rights do not go away. Schools and educators can use a number of tools and frameworks to help them provide high-quality experiences for all learners during time away from school buildings.

Major Laws You Should Know

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is a federal civil rights law that provides legal protections for individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and transportation. Title II of the ADA requires schools to make educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, and facilities open and accessible to all students. These provisions apply to brick-and-mortar and online schooling. Learn more: https://www.ada.gov/access-technology/index.html

Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act): The Tech Act promotes awareness of assistive technology (AT) and provides funds that enable access to AT devices and services. AT grants can help schools access assistive technology as more students with disabilities transition to virtual learning environments. Learn more: https://www.ataporg.org

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): The nation’s main law governing K–12 education, ESSA calls for states, districts, and schools to provide students access to challenging academic standards and holds schools accountable for the success of students, including students with disabilities and other subgroups. The U.S. Department of Education has provided states flexibility with regard to administering their state assessments this school year.

Learn more: https://oese.ed.gov/files/2020/03/COVID-19-OESE-FINAL-3.12.20.pdf

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The nation’s main law governing specific rights of K–12 students with disabilities (and a civil rights law), IDEA entitles all public school students to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Students suspected of having a disability have the right to a free evaluation, and students deemed eligible for special education have the right to special education and related services. IDEA provides parents with the right to be involved in all educational decisions about their child and also provides them with a private right of action in the event that the school fails to provide FAPE. Importantly, the U.S. Department of Education recently noted in its guidance that “FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically.” IDEA also says that students with disabilities are entitled to compensatory services to make up for challenges schools and districts are experiencing as they move instruction online. 

Learn more: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/frontpage/faq/rr/policyguidance/Supple%20Fact%20Sheet%203.21.20%20FINAL.pdf

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is an anti-discrimination law that notes: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ….” In light of COVID-19 and in conjunction with other laws, Section 504 assures that students with disabilities maintain their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Learn more: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to procure, develop, use, and maintain information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities. 

Learn more: https://www.hhs.gov/web/section-508/making-files-accessible/checklist/index.html

The outbreak of COVID-19 launched the United States into a public health crisis, impacting families, schools and communities in unprecedented ways. Yet, we know parents and schools across the country are working hard to uphold the civil rights of students with disabilities and meet their needs during this scary time. We want to highlight good ideas, creative thinking, and concrete examples of how families, schools, and communities are working together to serve students with disabilities as best they can. 

Ultimately, we want to share positive stories with schools, administrations, and state policy makers so that we can work together to provide special education to students with disabilities as best we can during this time. This is not the time to waive critical civil rights protections for students with disabilities and their families! We need to work together so all kids continue to learn.

Tell your Members of Congress: Oppose IDEA Waivers!

We need your help to protect students with disabilities and their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during the COVID-19 outbreak!

The CARES Act directed the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to provide Congress (within 30 days) with a list of the waivers she is requesting under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). If granted by Congress, these waivers would free states and school districts from their legal obligations, such as designing and implementing individualized education plans (IEPs), collaborating with parents, and providing equal educational access to students with disabilities.

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