The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is under imminent threat as the US responds to the COVID epidemic

A provision in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act recently passed that requires the U.S. Department of Education to issue recommendations 30 days from March 27 to Congress on what wavier authority the Department should be granted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Voc Rehab).
This means that some of the protections mandated by these laws could be waived during this time when our children are some of the most vulnerable.
The provision in the CARES Act does not provide any immediate waiver authority to the Department, and Congress would have to act to provide any such waiver authority. However, we are concerned about what waiver authority the Department may recommend and need your help to begin to educate Members of Congress about why waiving requirements under IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act will be harmful to children and individuals with disabilities.

Policy Recommendations (from The Century Foundation)

Accessible Technology

Schools and districts should prioritize platforms, content, and curriculum that embed universal-design for learning (UDL) features. UDL is a framework to embed multiple means of engagement, recognition, and instruction into curriculum broadly, and technology provides an opportunity where this can be accomplished more universally. For instance, ensuring online content and platforms embed features, including screen-readers, to help support students with disabilities such as dyslexia and visual impairments. Having this feature in advance reduces the need for educators to adapt content later.

During the selection process, school leaders should test platforms and curriculum for accessibility and UDL before making decisions. For instance, assistive technology specialists can help identify possible barriers. School leaders identifying which content and curriculum to use can utilize the National Center on Accessible Educational materials’ POUR principles when evaluating new materials: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. Organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, Edutopia, and the National Center on Systemic Improvement have compiled lists of accessible digital learning platforms, apps, and other resources for accessible digital learning that are available for educators. If platforms, content, and curriculum are not sufficiently accessible, school leaders should not select those tools.

Provisional IEPs with Comparable Services

States and districts could consider proactively creating guidelines for virtual IEP meetings and the possible implementation of provisional IEPs. Using the model of transfer students applied in other emergency situations, the U.S. Department of Education could issue guidance permitting states to interpret students as transfer students as they transition to distance learning. Educators along with parents could consider identifying services comparable to those in a student’s existing IEP to be offered in the virtual/telecommunication format to ensure the student can access and make progress in any distance learning program. Provisional IEPs allow for short-term implementation of required services within the new distance learning context. Educators and parents should also consider if any additional supplementary aids and services, parental communication, and assistive technology will better support the student during school closures. Any such provisional IEPs should stay in place only until schools reopen, at which time the original IEP should be reinstated and compensatory services should still be considered.

Extended-Year Services

Even with the best intentions of teachers and school leaders across the country, this temporary adjustment to distance learning will likely result in lapses in services for students with disabilities. Districts and states need to be ready to remedy this by implementing extended school-year services (ESY) in addition to considering compensatory services. It is imperative to proactively plan for lost time by creating systems to allow more students access to ESY. In the development of provisional IEPs, parents and educators should consider whether extended-year services will be beneficial to ensure comparable services to the current IEP. States and districts can work together to advocate for funding from the stimulus package to be used to expand access to ESY and compensatory services.


Given the timeline restrictions for evaluations, policymakers should be proactive in relaying additional guidance to districts, educators, and parents. To ensure students are sufficiently supported, schools should be expected to complete as much of the evaluation that can be completed in a distance format adapting to virtual or tele-evaluation procedures, when possible. Acknowledging that this may not be feasible in all circumstances, the U.S. Department of Education should align flexibility to the guidance for highly mobile students—districts should be permitted to extend the sixty-day timeline if they continue to make sufficient progress toward the evaluation and agree on an extended timeline with the parents. If evaluations are unable to be completed during the duration of school closures, districts should complete the evaluation process on an expedited timeline when schools reopen (for example, thirty days). This gives schools the flexibility needed to complete the evaluations in a timely and meaningful manner without requiring blanket waiver provisions on evaluation policies.Resources


COPAA Statement on Student Rights Under IDEA During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities (US Department of Education – 21 March 2020


COVID-19 School Closures and Services to Students with Disabilities (California Department of Education – April 2020)
COVID-19 Educator Resources (National Center for Learning Disabilities) – 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.

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