Each week we have been reviewing with you articles and publications that might be helpful to you as you plan for your child’s return to school. In April we shared with you U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s decision that the rules and laws for children with disabilities would not be changed in response to COVID-19. In other words, schools and school districts are still obligated to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. This means that if your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, that they should receive the services on their plan if school is in session.
In late July, SCHOOL LEADER VOICES: Concerns and Challenges to Providing Meaningful IDEA-Related Services During COVID-19, a joint document of the National School Boards Association, the School Superintendents’ Association and the Association of Educational Services Agencies was published. The introduction begins with this paragraph on page 7 (emphasis added):
“As schools prepare to reopen in the fall, there is a growing concern that school districts and educational service agencies will face unparalleled rates of litigation for their inability to meet requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. This concern is well-founded. IDEA guarantees eligible students with disabilities a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) and a right to pursue a complaint through a due process hearing and federal court. Similarly, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require equal access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Also, the regulations implementing Section 504 require FAPE. However, during this unprecedented pandemic, FAPE comes with tremendous costs to budgets and additional burdens on personnel that challenge school districts trying their best under the circumstances to meet the requirements.”
The rest of the document focuses on concerns about school districts being sued for not following the IEPs and 504 Plans of children with disabilities. Funding concerns are discussed as well. We encourage you to read the entire document and consider these points:
- It is concerning that the starting point for these national groups seems to be avoiding lawsuits rather than working together with everyone, including families, to find unique and creative ways to educate our children.
- There is no indication that these national groups asked for input from families, and families appear to be characterized as part of the problem in the examples that are given.
- The viewpoints of your school district’s Superintendent and School Board may differ from their national organizations. We encourage you to share this publication with officials in your district and discuss how they think they can work together with families to ensure the educational needs of our children are met.
- It is likely that these national associations will share this report with Congress and other national policy makers and ask for protection from being sued if they do not follow the IEPs and 504 Plans of children with disabilities. We encourage you to follow this issue along with us and be prepared to let those same policy makers know how important it is that our children receive the Free and Appropriate Public Education that is guaranteed to them under the law.