March 22, 2020
Official Message from the State Director of Special Education
United States Department of Education’s Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities
On Friday, March 20, 2020, the CDE released updated guidance on school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and services to students with disabilities. The guidance can be accessed on the CDE website at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/specialedcovid19guidance.asp.
The following day, on March 21, 2020, the United States Department of Education’s (USDOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released a supplemental fact sheet on addressing the risk of COVID-19 in preschool, elementary, and secondary schools while serving students with disabilities. The supplemental fact sheet can be accessed on the USDOE website at https://bit.ly/2JbjiQ4
It is imperative that Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) review both documents carefully. We appreciate the overwhelming challenges that students, families, and LEAs navigate daily as we collectively strive to maintain access to meaningful educational opportunities. In the supplemental fact sheet, the USDOE acknowledges that seeking to comply with relevant federal disability laws presents distinct challenges during this unprecedented time.
However, the USDOE notes the following:
“To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.”
The USDOE emphasizes that:
“. . . federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE [free appropriate public education] is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency. . .” and that “FAPE may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related services to students.”
The USDOE indicates that “. . .there may be additional questions about meeting the requirements of federal civil rights law; where we can offer flexibility, we will”. To that end, the USDOE supplemental fact sheet includes a list with information on those IDEA timeframes that may be extended. In addition, the March 20, 2020 special education guidance from the CDE notes various LEA special education monitoring timelines that will be waived or extended, acknowledging that LEAs are necessarily focused on protecting the health and safety of students during this time.
As we continue to grapple with this unprecedented crisis, the CDE is committed to supporting parents, educators, and administrators in their efforts to work together to meet the needs of students with disabilities. As noted in prior guidance, the CDE has formed a workgroup of special education practitioners and other experts to help brainstorm best practices that we plan to share in the coming weeks
The CDE will continue to update guidance and provide new information as it becomes available. Questions concerning topics not addressed in prior guidance can be sent to: SEDinfo@cde.ca.gov.
Thank you for your enduring commitment to providing services to our students.
Kristin Wright, DirectorSpecial Education Division