School & District Management

Special Ed. Administrators Press Congress for IDEA Waivers During Pandemic

By Corey Mitchell — April 16, 2020 2 min read
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The nation’s leading special education administrator groups are pressing leaders in Congress to give schools flexibility on federal requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation’s primary special education law.

The Council of Administrators of Special Education and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education are seeking waivers for timelines that govern when schools must review students’ Individualized Education Programs, evaluate students for special education services, and respond to legal complaints.

The groups also want temporary reprieves from state monitoring and enforcement and the requirements that schools spend a “proportionate share” of their IDEA funding on services for private school students and provide services to students who need academic and behavioral support, but are not currently identified as needing special education services.

The requests put the groups in direct conflict with disability rights advocates who fear waivers will put students at risk of falling behind their educational goals. About 7 million children nationwide are served under IDEA.

The coronavirus stimulus bill President Donald Trump signed into law in late March gives U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos 30 days to tell Congress if she needs authority to waive parts of IDEA—and the administrator groups say schools need help as they navigate ways to provide services during the unprecedented school closures and disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis.

“Members of Congress should understand that in some situations, despite our best efforts, meeting these requirements in the middle of a pandemic is not possible,” reads the letter to the leading Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate education committees. “As Secretary DeVos considers these requests, we ask that your committees advance legislation that will allow for relief in these areas.”

DeVos has not publicly discussed what special education-related waivers she might request from Congress, or if she plans to seek any.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities is among the groups that have expressed concern that waivers could pave the way for permanent changes in law, shortchanging millions of special education students in the process. The organization is calling on supporters to “tell Congress that the IDEA does not need to be gutted” during the global pandemic.

“To be clear, we expect that these flexibilities should only be granted in this specific circumstance (COVID-19) and that state and local education agencies, parents, and families should continue to work together in the interests of children,” the letter from the special education administrator groups concludes.

“However, it is clear to us that the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other federal laws were not written anticipating a global pandemic that has closed a large majority of schools across the country, and for this reason we urge you to grant these specific flexibilities to local and state education agencies.”

Here’s a look at the full letter.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.