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.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos today reaffirmed her long-held position that individualized education must take place for all students, including students with disabilities. As a result, the Secretary is not recommending Congress pass any additional waiver authority concerning the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reiterating that learning must continue for all students during the COVID-19 national emergency.
As requested by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Secretary DeVos examined certain federal education laws to determine what, if any, additional waiver authority the Secretary believes is necessary to provide limited flexibility to state and local education agencies during this unprecedented time. The Secretary determined there is no reason that a student's access to FAPE cannot continue online, through distance education or other alternative strategies.
While not advising any waivers to the core tenets of IDEA, the Department is requesting that Congress consider additional flexibilities on administrative requirements under the Perkins Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the IDEA.
The Secretary requested that Congress defer the work or repayment requirements or allow credit to be given for the service obligation for recipients of IDEA personnel preparation grants (personnel development scholarships) if employment was interrupted by COVID-19.
Regarding the Perkins Act, the Secretary is also recommending a waiver that would allow local education agencies (LEAs) to keep any funds allotted to them for the 2019-2020 academic year that they have not spent during the COVID-19 national emergency. Without this waiver, LEAs would otherwise lose this money and have to return it to the state.
The Secretary also requested Congress to permit Vocational Rehabilitation funds to be used to replace expired or spoiled food products at Randolph-Sheppard vending sites required to close due to COVID-19, thus providing support to vendors and allowing facilities to reopen more efficiently following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Secretary recommended several additional waiver authorities relating to the Perkins Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the IDEA, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For a complete list of waiver recommendations and to access the full Recommendation of Waiver Authority report to Congress, click here.