Ginny Fogg, DRNC Education Team Supervising Attorney
You may have seen some news recently about potential changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a result of COVID-19. While the language has not passed Congress yet, DRNC wants you to know our thoughts about this situation.
A bill being drafted in the Senate contains language requiring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to report to Congress about any specific parts of IDEA or Section 504 that should be temporarily waived “to provide limited flexibility” to states and school districts “to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities during the emergency.” The bill does not give DeVos the ability to waive IDEA or 504 rights by herself. Any recommendations she makes will have to be put in bill form and passed by both houses of Congress before they can take effect.
There are some parts of IDEA and 504 that we would never want to be waived, such as a child’s fundamental right to a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, parents’ rights to appeal decisions made by the school, and the child’s right to effective remedies when they have not received an appropriate education. In our current situation, though, we think there may be some narrow parts of IDEA or 504 that make sense to put on hold for a few months. If students are out of school for several months, it will be hard for school districts to accurately report to the state and federal government the number of students with disabilities still living in their district, called Child Count, because there will be no formal attendance records if students are not physically entering a school building every day.
If social distancing continues to be required, it will also be hard for some evaluations to happen within the 90-day timeline. We believe it may be better for that deadline to be flexible if a virtual evaluation would not produce reliable results about the child’s strengths and needs. Instead, we would like for parents and schools to be able to agree to delay those evaluations until the school psychologist and the child can safely sit beside each other at a table to complete those tests.
Finally, we want you to know that DRNC and many other state and national organizations are watching this very closely. We’ll continue to advocate every day on behalf of all children with disabilities – that’s our job – and keep you updated. At times, we may ask you to do the important work of forwarding information to your friends, calling or emailing your representatives in Congress, or signing an on-line petition. But we also want you, as the parent of a child with a disability, to be able to stay focused on your very important daily job – taking care of yourself, your child, and other family members.
If you have questions about this or other education issues during this time, please reach out. Contact us by using online intake form or call toll free (within NC): 1-877-235-4210.