The U.S. Education Department, Office for Civil Rights, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is emphasizing flexibility when delivering special education and related services in the midst of the current pandemic. The message to public schools: continue to educate all students, including students with disabilities, even though delivery methods may change as schools across the country have closed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).
OSERS initially issued a Fact Sheet on March 16, 2020, explaining that K-12 public schools must continue to comply with Section 504 and the IDEA. This fact sheet explained that delivery of services will likely occur on different platforms and that assessments requiring in-person meetings or classroom observations may have to be delayed.
On March 21, 2020, OSERS issued a Supplemental Fact Sheet due to concerns that some public schools would not offer any educational services during COVID-19 school closures because of challenges in providing individualized remote learning for students with disabilities. OSERS emphasizes that complying with the laws governing students with disabilities should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. The crux of this message: "federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities." OSERS provided the following ideas to support students with disabilities: distance instruction, teletherapy and tele-intervention, meetings held on digital platforms, online options for data tracking, and documentation, as well as low-tech strategies for exchanging curriculum-based resources, instructional packets, projects, and written assignments.
Many public schools are issuing a prior written notice letter to all families of students with disabilities or those families in the midst of an initial assessment. These letters are providing general information applicable to all students. Schools should keep in mind that individualized prior written notice may be required depending on the student's unique needs. If your school is considering issuing a notice to all families, work with legal counsel to ensure the message is consistent with the law and guidance issued by OSERS.
Schools are encouraged to consult with their local public health department to address issues arising at or related to the school site, students, parents, or employees. The Law Offices of Megan M. Moore can assist you with legal questions related to student safety, discrimination, and special education, including drafting or review of prior written notices. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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