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Friday, March 13, 2020

Shutdown and Special Education

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.

Coronavirus shutdowns pose unique problems, sometimes dire ones. Many people on the spectrum suffer from anxiety disorders, and a national crisis surely adds to their anxiety.  

The IDEA, Section 504, and Title II of the ADA do not specifically address a situation in which elementary and secondary schools are closed for an extended period of time (generally more than 10 consecutive days) because of exceptional circumstances, such as an outbreak of a particular disease.
If an LEA [local education agency] closes its schools to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then an LEA would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time. Once school resumes, the LEA must make every effort to provide special education and related services to the child in accordance with the child’s individualized education program (IEP) or, for students entitled to FAPE [free appropriate public education]  under Section 504, consistent with a plan developed to meet the requirements of Section 504. The Department understands there may be exceptional circumstances that could affect how a particular service is provided. In addition, an IEP Team and, as appropriate to an individual student with a disability, the personnel responsible for ensuring FAPE to a student for the purposes of Section 504, would be required to make an individualized determination as to whether compensatory services are needed under applicable standards and requirements.
If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§ 300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR § 104.33 (Section 504)).
Kalyn Belsha at Chalkbeat:
“I’m very, very concerned because when these school closures become a nationwide issue … this population will just regress,” said Chris Yun, an education policy analyst at Access Living, a Chicago-based disability rights group. Another way to do it, she said, would be for a district to proactively consider extending the school year or offering summer school.

Yun, in Chicago, said she was disappointed when Illinois education officials recently told districts to come up with e-learning plans without providing much information about how that would affect students with disabilities.
“Is it helpful to school districts? No, not at all,” Yun said. “It’s good to mention that e-learning services should be accessible to students with disabilities. But how is the question.” (On Thursday, the state issued some additional guidance that said it recognized e-learning wouldn’t work for all students, and that it may be necessary to consider alternatives.)