U.S. Ed Dept & OCR: Schools May Prioritize Special Needs Students When Reopening

lecture, instructor, classroom After the United States Department of Education reminded schools of the obligation to provide special education services and uphold civil rights laws no matter if students are learning in-person or remotely, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated that schools may not prioritize in-person learning opportunities for students based on race, national origin or color – but may prioritize in-person instruction for students with disabilities based on their individual needs.

The guidance documents were released in response to questions from the education community and to clarify existing law or policy. OCR stated that preferences of basing phased-in learning on a student’s “race, color or national origin” would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but schools may be required to provide in-person services to certain students with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 so those students can receive a “free appropriate public education.”

One nine-page document emphasized that schools must still accept harassment complaints and investigate allegations under the new Title IX rule, even if the school is solely offering virtual learning and reiterated that schools must not have blanket policies prohibiting new complaints being submitted.

From Education Dive:

The other guidance is a seven-page Q&A from the department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). That document stresses that state education agencies, school districts and individual education program teams are still responsible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for providing FAPE to all students with disabilities no matter what instructional approach is provided.

Those requirements include having an appropriate IEP for each qualified student at the start of the school year. IEP teams may need to determine if revisions to the service plan are necessary. A district could also amend the IEP as long as it doesn’t replace the annual IEP meeting and parents are provided with notification of their rights regarding the changes, the document said.