The U.S. Department of Education released a fact sheet Saturday in response to complaints that previous guidance left school districts unsure of how to provide services for students with disabilities amid the extended closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The five-page fact sheet aims to clarify that federal law should not be used to prevent schools from offering online learning opportunities to all students, including those with disabilities.
“It was extremely disappointing to hear that some school districts were using information from the Department of Education as an excuse not to educate kids,” U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement accompanying the fact sheet release.
“Nothing issued by this department should in any way prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. We need schools to educate all students out of principle, rather than educate no students out of fear. These are challenging times, but we expect schools to rise to the occasion, and the department stands ready to assist you in your efforts.”
The Council of Chief State Schools Officers, National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, and other organizations had called on the department to clarify how districts should proceed. Districts face the potential loss of federal funding if they fail to provide accommodations for students with disabilities.
The fact sheet reaffirms that federal law mandates that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in everything schools provide, including online learning, but assures districts they will have flexibility in reaching that goal.
“Although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies,” the fact sheet reads. “The department encourages parents, educators, and administrators to collaborate creatively to continue to meet the needs of students with disabilities.”