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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Civil Rights and Education During COVID-19

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. Providing education is proving to be very difficult.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has posted a joint statement from civil rights organizations, including the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Disability Rights Network:
Federal law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires students with disabilities to receive a free appropriate public education and related services, such as speech or occupational therapies. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits federally funded programs from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, including students. These legal requirements and educational imperatives continue, even in the face of the current public health crisis. While school closures may present many challenges for students, families, and educators who are used to working together in-person, there are many examples of schools and districts working creatively to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are met and they are not denied an education. Special attention is needed to ensure the rights of children with disabilities who are also English learners, low-income, or students of color are met.
  • Florida UCP Charter Schools will be providing a customized Distance Learning program for its PreK – 12th grade students. This will include daily live lessons and virtual field trips/performances using Google Meet by teachers, “specials” and guests (i.e. legislators, local celebrities), classroom and individualized lessons using Google Classroom, and remote occupational, physical, and speech therapies. Clinical Counselors will provide virtual therapy and behavior technicians will host virtual social skills groups and individualized virtual meetings with parents/students. Family Service Case Managers will conduct a weekly “check in” with families to provide any needed support/resources and school nurses will check in with students with health care needs.
  • The Ohio Department of Education is working to ensure students with disabilities receive educational services consistent with their Individualized Education Programs. Recognizing the challenges this may present, the Department has advised school districts to consider three questions in the delivery of special education services: “1. Is the activity essential? 2. Can the activity be done virtually? 3. If there is no other choice, then can the activity be done safely?” Consulting local health departments is advisable and encouraged.
  • The Manchester, NH School District set up a link to access information regarding home instruction. There is a letter to parents (available in audio in multiple languages), and information about food delivery, lessons, and materials for elementary school. It appears Manchester is rolling out lesson plans by grade level, starting with elementary school. The letter to parents indicates that the district intends to provide services in students’ IEPs and 504 plans, including possibly bringing small cohorts of students into the schools. Teachers will call parents. Meals and hard-copy materials are being delivered daily.
  • According to a parent of the Argyle Independent School District in Texas: “We are receiving online instruction through Google Classroom. The teachers are making videos or using WebEx to connect with students and have had great communication and availability. They are currently sending out information for “parent-focused speech therapy.” Special Education teachers have modified assignments and hand delivered them to each student’s home and are available remotely to help and answer questions.
  • LEAs, schools, parents, and advocates may also consider emerging best practices for complying with federal disability law during COVID-19 school closures by visiting the National Center for Learning Disabilities website here and here. Practitioners and families can also find curated, searchable resources, access to experts, and examples from the field, provided by national organizations, here.
Recommendations to Effectively Serve Students with Disabilities
  • LEAs and schools should develop a process for reaching out to families to assess each student’s circumstance or new challenges that may need to be addressed in the home learning environment. Schools should develop a plan for regular, ongoing communication with families, in a language they understand, to monitor student progress.
  • LEAs and schools should develop a process for involving families in all Individualized Education Program team meetings and decisions about the student’s education needs, goals, and services that will be provided.
  • LEAs and schools should ensure that specialized instruction and related services continue for students with disabilities to the greatest extent possible in whatever manner is most appropriate for the child, while maintaining health and safety standards.
  • LEAs and schools should provide educators the tools and professional development to scaffold their teaching and ensure that their lessons are designed in accordance with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), offering multiple ways for students to engage. School districts should also provide opportunities to increase collaboration and communication among educators and service providers to evaluate students’ needs and work together to make appropriate adjustments for students with disabilities.
  • LEAs and schools should determine which needed services cannot be adequately or appropriately provided at this time and begin to plan for the provision of compensatory services as soon as possible.