28 Apr Jon Cartu Review: DeVos Decides Against Special Education Waivers During the
WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will not recommend that schools be freed of any of their obligations to educate students with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, the Education Department announced this week.
The decision was outlined in a report that the department sent to Congress on Monday, which recommended that it leave intact the core tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but suggested some flexibility in the law’s administrative requirements, such as extending timelines for assessing toddlers for special education services.
“While the department has provided extensive flexibility to help schools transition, there is no reason for Congress to waive any provision designed to keep students learning,” Ms. DeVos said in a statement. “With ingenuity, innovation and grit, I know this nation’s educators and schools can continue to faithfully educate every one of its students.”
In the recently passed coronavirus stabilization law, Congress gave Ms. DeVos 30 days to recommend whether she wanted the authority to waive parts of the landmark federal special education law to help schools cope with prolonged closings.
The closings have significantly altered the ability of schools to provide special education services as they scramble to move instruction online. Those services, outlined in legal agreements called Individualized Education Programs, can include an array of intensive educational services, like tutoring, behavioral support or occupational therapy,
As school districts grapple with ensuring that the special education population, about seven million students, receives an education equal to its peers, many have feared being out of compliance with federal requirements and deadlines, and some have braced for costly lawsuits from families whose students did not receive the same level of services.
Fearing a backlash, some school districts opted not to educate any children at all for a period, or significantly curtailed the level of instruction they offered. Only a few weeks into the school closings, some districts reported that lawyers had already begun eyeing legal action, according to the AASA, the School Superintendents Association, which had urged the department to request some flexibility from the law.
HuffPost reported Saturday that some schools in New Jersey were forcing families to sign away their rights and to promise not to sue to receive special education services.
Special education and civil rights groups argued that any waivers from the law would signal to schools that they could write off the nation’s most vulnerable students for the remainder of the pandemic. They cheered Ms. DeVos’s recommendation, and urged Congress to uphold it.
“DeVos’s recommendation is a surprising — but welcome — move from this administration and a win for the disability rights movement,” said West Resendes, a Skadden fellow in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Disability Rights Program.
“The department has rightfully steered clear of recommending any waivers that would alter the tenets of IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act, thus supporting every child with a disability’s right to a free, appropriate public education,” Denise Marshall, the chief executive of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, said in a statement. “While challenging, we know that many schools and districts are embracing their responsibilities as they work with families to meet the needs of students while physical buildings are closed.”
Also Monday, Ms. DeVos announced a grant competition that would allow states to apply for funding from the department and dole out “microgrants” to parents that they could use for a variety of remote educational services, including special education.