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. And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all.
[The] U.S. Education Department announced it was giving schools flexibility in interpreting IDEA, saying that complying with the law, "should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction."
Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform, an advocacy group that promotes school choice, said she was relieved to get the guidance, as there's been, "confusion about what schools, school districts and educators were permitted to do." She acknowledges that there are concerns about equity, but argues that schools should be looking to ed tech innovators and seeking creative solutions, rather than putting a hold on all learning.
"The law does not say if you don't educate every single person today in real time, you're going to get penalized," she maintains, "You don't stop schools and leaders from educating students to find the perfect solution."
A new federal relief package, which President Trump signed into law on Friday, offers Education Secretary Betsy DeVos the opportunity to go one step further: She now has 30 days to seek waivers for additional provisions of IDEA in order to provide schools with "limited flexibility."
This provision makes disability advocates nervous. "We're talking about waiving a civil right for our most vulnerable people in our society, children who don't vote, who have no voice, who are relying on their parents to advocate for them," says Stephanie Langer, a Florida civil rights attorney who focuses on education and disability.
She worries that if the federal government lets states and districts off the hook for providing accommodations for students with disabilities, schools and teachers won't even try. "If they know they won't be held accountable at the back end, they simply will not try," Langer maintains. "Having the requirements in place requires schools to do something rather than nothing, even if it's not perfect.