FILE PHOTO: Caidence Miller, a 4th grader at Cottage Lake Elementary, works with his grandmother Chrissy Brackett as they try to figure out how to navigate an online learning system. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Some families and advocates have filed lawsuits against schools and state education departments, presenting the argument that schools broke federal disability law by providing insufficient services in the spring. When the pandemic forced schools to go remote this spring, many of the 7 million U.S. students who receive special services were left behind, families said, and some vital services including physical, occupational and speech therapies were halted.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guarantee students with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education and protect them from discrimination. In spite of the ongoing pandemic, those laws “have not changed,” says Diane Smith Howard, with the National Disability Rights Network. “Those laws have not been repealed. There are no waivers to those laws. So they are in effect.”

John Eisenberg, who runs the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, said it’s beyond challenging. “I think you’re going to see an increase of lawsuits because schools, no matter what cost, probably cannot implement the IEPs in some cases because of the funding shortages,” he said. Without increased funding, Eisenberg said it will be a daunting task to get kids back into the classroom. At the federal level, the School Boards Association and others are asking Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress for some flexibility in special-education requirements during the pandemic, relief that so far has not come.

This fall, with more time to plan, some districts in Arizona, Oregon, Massachusetts and Alaska are trying to improve online instruction for students with special needs. One new law in California requires districts to provide distance learning plans for all students in special education, tailored to each student’s unique needs, much like individual learning plans are required for in-person learning. The plans will apply to any emergency that forces a school to close for 10 days or more, including wildfires, earthquakes and pandemics.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Sacramento parents wonder: Is distance learning leaving special needs students behind? – The Sacramento Bee – 8/25/2020
While teaching kids at home has been difficult for many parents, students with special needs present an extra challenge. With no support staff on hand and no specialized training, parents say they’ve struggled to find success with stay-at-home learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City falls short on special education planning – City and State New York – 8/24/2020
As the school year fast approaches, figuring out how best to implement safe and effective education is paramount, but the need to get it right is even more dire for those receiving special education – and advocates say that the city could be doing more to ensure those kids are getting all the services they need.

College Reopening: The Outlook for In-Person Classes – The New York Times – 8/24/2020
After months of remote learning, many of the 7.1 million U.S. students who receive special services have fallen behind on developing and maintaining life skills crucial for their independence. Some need help with motor and social skills, while others struggle to navigate remote instruction with attention disorders or different learning styles.

Distance Learning is a ‘Nightmare’ for Many Special Needs Kids. These Businesses Are Creating Tools to Help. – The Samford Advocate – 8/25/2020
The loss of in-person special education has been devastating for many families who are trying to keep their kids’ progress from stalling or regressing. Fortunately, education entrepreneurs are innovating to offer a bit of relief.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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