During remote learning, there have been may questions about the provision of special education services. When Congress passed CARES ( the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), it included a requirement that the Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, review the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 “to determine what, if any, waiver authorities to recommend to Congress to provide limited flexibility to assist States and local educational agencies to meet the needs of students and adults with disabilities during the COVID-19 national emergency.” In other words, she was asked to determine whether some requirements of IDEA and 504 should be limited or waived during this crisis. On April 27, 2020, Secretary DeVos responded and re-affirmed the right to a free appropriate public education. You can read her report here.
First, she made clear that the Department was not requesting any “waiver authority for any of the core tenets of the IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, most notably a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment.”
Second, Secretary DeVos stated that schools must “provide education to all students, including children with disabilities” and that “the needs and best interests of the individual student, not any system, should guide decisions and expenditures.”
Third, Secretary DeVos stated that parents must “be informed, and involved in, decisions relating to the provision of services.”
This guidance makes clear to states that the federal oversight agency expects state and local education agencies to provide a free appropriate public education to students, to do so based on the needs of individual students, and to include parents in the decision-making process. Equally important is that she notes that recommendations for waiver authority that are included in her report are focused on the need “to minimize barriers to learning and issues arising from the use of funds in an extraordinary time.”
The bottom line is this: Secretary DeVos is giving states some flexibilities, designed to minimize barriers to learning, while making it clear that all students are entitled to a free appropriate public education and states need to “find solutions for their students.”
This is welcomed news but much work remains to be done in Connecticut to ensure that state policy guidance is consistent with federal law and policy guidance.