Photo: U.S. Department of Education
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking at the White House in March.

School districts must comply with federal special education laws during the school closures despite pleas from school administrators for flexibility, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Monday.

Responding to a request from Congress for recommendations on changes to special education requirements during the coronavirus pandemic, DeVos declined to waive the bulk of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, saying “learning must continue for all students during the COVID-19 national emergency.”

“We undertook this task acknowledging the reality that most students and teachers are at home today; yet, America’s teachers want to keep teaching and students need to keep learning,” DeVos said. “While the Department has provided extensive flexibility to help schools transition, there is no reason for Congress to waive any provision designed to keep students learning. With ingenuity, innovation and grit, I know this nation’s educators and schools can continue to faithfully educate every one of its students.”

Disability rights advocates were relieved at DeVos’ announcement. They had feared that even temporary waivers would be a gateway to broader or more permanent changes to the 1975 law, which guarantees a quality, appropriate education to all students, regardless of their abilities.

“We are thrilled the Department of Education is not recommending waiving these key protections,” said Miriam Rollin, director of the Education Civil Rights Alliance and an attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, a nonprofit law firm based in Washington, D.C. “We agree with the DoE that broad waivers are not necessary and would be harmful to children with disabilities.”

DeVos’ announcement came as a surprise to disability rights advocates as well as school district officials. Both groups lobbied the Department of Education heavily during the 30-day window Congress gave DeVos to recommend waivers. The request for recommendations was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was signed in late March.

“I’m really surprised. It’s slim pickings. They’re not giving us a lot of wiggle room,” said Laura Preston, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, one of dozens of administrator and school board groups around the country that asked for temporary adjustments to special education laws while schools are closed.

Preston’s group as well as others said that districts need waivers for certain parts of the law, such as timelines for assessments, one-on-one therapy and deadlines for parent meetings to discuss a student’s education plan. In the shift to online learning, some of those services are almost impossible to deliver, they argued, opening districts to lawsuits from parents.

Some parents had been especially nervous about potential waivers, fearing their children would miss out on services such as occupational and speech therapy, one-on-one aides and behavioral therapy.

“I am so relieved,” said Jennifer Grinager, whose son Ben has autism and receives services at his school in Templeton near San Luis Obispo. “(DeVos’) decision helps towards addressing my concerns because it certainly gives me power to fight for my son.”

The issue is not completely resolved, though, Rollin said. Congress must accept DeVos’ recommendations and can still make changes of its own, although a previous attempt, during the CARES Act negotiations in March, was scratched.

“This is a very pleasant surprise, but the fight isn’t over,” Rollin said.

DeVos did recommend small changes to the law, including a waiver for the deadlines for children to transition from early childhood programs to regular schools. While schools are closed, DeVos is recommending that students continue receiving services through their early childhood programs until schools can conduct face-to-face assessments for placement in regular school.

The change makes sense for schools and students, Rollin said.

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  1. Angela R Lyte Crowther 4 months ago4 months ago

    It would have been instructive for groups opposing the waivers or federal educational experts to come up with some solutions. We are in a shelter in place order. How are occupational and speech direct services suppose to be delivered when you cannot be in the same physical space as students? Or do these parents want the services so bad they are willing to risk their family and the families of the service providers? How … Read More

    It would have been instructive for groups opposing the waivers or federal educational experts to come up with some solutions. We are in a shelter in place order. How are occupational and speech direct services suppose to be delivered when you cannot be in the same physical space as students? Or do these parents want the services so bad they are willing to risk their family and the families of the service providers?

    How is this current situation we find ourselves in, not like a natural disaster? If we had a major earthquake in California with massive casualties and closures of school due to safety concerns? Where is common sense?

  2. Dana Jo Hendrix 4 months ago4 months ago

    Clearly, she has no idea what she is doing and didn’t bother to ask any professionals. What a surprise coming from a person who has been clueless from day 1. This opens up school districts, who are already underfunded, to multiple lawsuits. I can tell you that therapists are doing our best to deliver services. We don’t deserve this.

    Replies

    • James White 4 months ago4 months ago

      Who would have thought that I'll agree with DeVos. God must be working in a mysterious way ... To your point, and I'm not talking to you individually as I don't know you personally, I'm referring to the collective you. So no, you don't do your best, not even close. And the professional should have been with the parents holding school districts responsible for their children. We, parents, are seeing all over the … Read More

      Who would have thought that I’ll agree with DeVos. God must be working in a mysterious way … To your point, and I’m not talking to you individually as I don’t know you personally, I’m referring to the collective you. So no, you don’t do your best, not even close. And the professional should have been with the parents holding school districts responsible for their children.

      We, parents, are seeing all over the place school districts racing to the bottom, delivering as little as possible. Yes, all parents understand that some things can’t be delivered, but for almost two months we see how some districts are abdicating their moral duty, and unfortunately, too many teachers are going along. Corona is the colloquial name of the virus, not of a vacation. So for all the teachers and therapists here who oppose DeVos’s ruling, let me recommend the movies “Stand and Deliver,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “To Sir With Love,” and “Dead Poets Society,” and that is only a partial list.

      As Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can, or can’t, you’re correct”. I can add to that the statement from the army from many years ago “I can’t” is a cousin of “I don’t want to.”

      • Esther 3 months ago3 months ago

        Whether you speak to the ‘collective you’ or not, your examples are way off. You know what each of those movies has in common? They can see those children face-to-face. You know what have been the two stumbling blocks to providing services to my kids? Not seeing them face-to-face and their unavailability. It does not matter how hard teachers or therapists work to plan lessons, activities, or discussions if the parents don’t sign on.

        • James White 3 months ago3 months ago

          Esther, I don't know your kids, and you don't know mine, but as a parent of an ASD boy, and being in contact with a lot of parents, and being on numerous lists, I know that I'm on very solid ground when I say that the face to face is issue is indeed a valid one, but also an issue facing the minority of services not provided. Yes it's true that some children are … Read More

          Esther, I don’t know your kids, and you don’t know mine, but as a parent of an ASD boy, and being in contact with a lot of parents, and being on numerous lists, I know that I’m on very solid ground when I say that the face to face is issue is indeed a valid one, but also an issue facing the minority of services not provided. Yes it’s true that some children are in families that can’t afford a computer for an online session, but in many places the school district provide computers, and I don’t think that it’s appropriate to cancel majority of services across the board because there are instances where those services can’t be provided.

          I don’t know if one should refer to it as a race to the bottom, or the situation when the tail wags the dog, but either way, it’s wrong. If they can’t provide services to my son, it doesn’t mean your kids should suffer as well; this is a distorted solidarity.

          What all those movies have in common, is dedication commitment, perseverance, etc. When the going gets tough, we should expect the tough to get going. No educator or therapist was asked to be Janusz Korczak, just to really, really stand for our kids, and we see that too many don’t. I’m looking at, and with, my fellow parents and I know what I see.

  3. Sheryl Gavin 4 months ago4 months ago

    Are administrators and Congress actually thinking that our children with disabilities don't have the same rights to education as neurotypical children? I have an 11 year old son with autism and I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers and therapists he has and would be lost without them. How about you bigwigs taking less of a bonus and putting money back into education instead of bullying families like mine with the threat of budget cuts? Yeah, … Read More

    Are administrators and Congress actually thinking that our children with disabilities don’t have the same rights to education as neurotypical children?

    I have an 11 year old son with autism and I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers and therapists he has and would be lost without them. How about you bigwigs taking less of a bonus and putting money back into education instead of bullying families like mine with the threat of budget cuts?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so..smh!

    Our children have all the same mountains to climb, it just takes them a little longer to get there but do in there own sweet time and are equally as important as neurotypical students!

  4. Sarah 4 months ago4 months ago

    I service special ed. students on-line and have been for the last three years. I’ve worked in sp. ed. since 1996. On-line is do-able. I have autistic, down syndrome, etc. The private company I work for, Total Education Solutions, has transitioned to on-line services in OT, SLP, PT, etc., for their students/clients. The only challenge is assessments. Until online assessments are developed, services can still be provided. It’s not impossible, and very doable.

  5. Tosha Mobley 4 months ago4 months ago

    I'm a public schools Special educator and have been for 20 years now. I don't understand what the advocate is cheering for? This is yet another display of the lack of understanding from the Department of Education. If, "DeVos is recommending that students continue receiving services through their early childhood programs until schools can conduct face-to-face assessments for placement in regular school," and related service specialists such as occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, psychologist, … Read More

    I’m a public schools Special educator and have been for 20 years now. I don’t understand what the advocate is cheering for? This is yet another display of the lack of understanding from the Department of Education. If, “DeVos is recommending that students continue receiving services through their early childhood programs until schools can conduct face-to-face assessments for placement in regular school,” and related service specialists such as occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, psychologist, have to be face-to-face in order to do certain assessments of students – without invalidating some components of the assessment – then how are they expected to do it face-to-face in the midst of a virus-spreading epidemic?

    Furthermore, how is it that A waiver or provision can be created to waive face-to-face assessments for early childhood but not for professionals who service students with disabilities? This act appears to be discriminatory to me, and a violation of civil rights tours the professionals who provide services for these students.

    As with all IDEA provisions, a school has within one annual year to try to resolve or remediate the deficit areas of our students. An amendment to the individual Education Plan can happen with the team agreement that the service or goal for the service may need to be modified adjusted or deleted altogether. The challenge is when parents are not clear of the provision that states it is a team decision, not a parent-only decision and the team can select to forward that goal, reassess, or re apply that goal in the new school year, post Covid-19 epidemic.

    It is shameful and ridiculous how policies are allowed to obscure the nature of the authentic desires of all team members – schools, parents, teachers, and professionals – and allow for laws and rules that foster competition amongst the team members, instead of cohesive collaboration.

    Inclusive of the federal Department of Education, state departments of education step back and allow for the same false reasoning, endorsing competition and forgetting that the law provides that my contract to provide services for students with disabilities is for the student, not with a parent. Get it right people!

    Replies

    • Sasha 4 months ago4 months ago

      You need to reread the article. Also you may be doing your part but many aren’t. This will hopefully give them a kick in the butt to get to serving sped kids.

    • Kandy Kumera 1 month ago1 month ago

      I’m a bit confused about what you just said. What potential civil rights violation are you talking about in terms of educators? People throw that around without understanding what is a protected characteristic or activity to qualify as a civil rights violation. Please read The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  6. Ashley Evelyn 4 months ago4 months ago

    The big question is how will C-19 impact the delivery of Sp.Ed. services next school year. IEP meetings can easily have 8+ people in a room that does not allow for social distancing. Will these meetings be held virtually going forward? Also, how will assessments be conducted when the proximity is inches apart between the clinician and student? Lastly, will staff members who complete self-care services for students be supplied with PPE? The list of … Read More

    The big question is how will C-19 impact the delivery of Sp.Ed. services next school year. IEP meetings can easily have 8+ people in a room that does not allow for social distancing. Will these meetings be held virtually going forward?

    Also, how will assessments be conducted when the proximity is inches apart between the clinician and student? Lastly, will staff members who complete self-care services for students be supplied with PPE? The list of concerns are endless, let’s plan for the mountains ahead.

    Replies

    • Sasha 4 months ago4 months ago

      Let’s start by doing what we can. Running virtual groups, having annual IEPs, contacting parents, checking in with gen ed teachers to discuss accommodations. Sounds like common sense, but many aren’t doing this.

  7. Angie 4 months ago4 months ago

    Well, I hope a child with an allergy doesn't receive a hidden food product while completing an assignment and have an attack. That IEP would protect the parent and allow blame on the teacher. Be real and honest. The 1975 ruling is not a gateway to less services. We've seen all kinds of things that give a child with disabilities an opportunity to succeed to the best of their abilities but we've also encountered some … Read More

    Well, I hope a child with an allergy doesn’t receive a hidden food product while completing an assignment and have an attack. That IEP would protect the parent and allow blame on the teacher.

    Be real and honest. The 1975 ruling is not a gateway to less services. We’ve seen all kinds of things that give a child with disabilities an opportunity to succeed to the best of their abilities but we’ve also encountered some students who have these requirements in place and use them as a crutch the same way some (not all at all) parents use them to invoke sympathy and extra attention.

    Yes all students should learn but many of these IEPs and 504s are impossible with social distancing. ‘Experts’ in education with more than 5 years of experience in an actual classroom with actual students would know this. The districts are asking for an exemption during a pandemic not to maliciously change the law later or plotting to reverse the rulings of 1975. Standing up for kids with disabilities is one thing but using their disability as your own is another.

  8. Colleen 4 months ago4 months ago

    Wrong on so many levels! First, IDEA isn’t and hasn’t been fully funded. Schools have had to steal from their general revenue budget to try and meet the mandates of IDEA. Second, absolutely and totally impossible for schools to do during a pandemic. The real question becomes why would she set up schools across the country up to fail? Districts were only looking for a temporary waiver so millions and millions of dollars weren’t wasted … Read More

    Wrong on so many levels! First, IDEA isn’t and hasn’t been fully funded. Schools have had to steal from their general revenue budget to try and meet the mandates of IDEA. Second, absolutely and totally impossible for schools to do during a pandemic. The real question becomes why would she set up schools across the country up to fail?

    Districts were only looking for a temporary waiver so millions and millions of dollars weren’t wasted in ridiculous lawsuits. Surely she knew that! So the question is why? Why do this?

    Replies

    • A special educator 3 months ago3 months ago

      She and Trump have always wanted public education to fail and to privatize it for profit. She wants IDEA to go away as it stands in the way of privatization. Parents, keep up this "lazy school" attitude that I’m hearing, and no one will be left to provide special education services anymore. The shortages are so ridiculous my very well paying district is recruiting from the Philippines. The candidates would sink in our system. They … Read More

      She and Trump have always wanted public education to fail and to privatize it for profit. She wants IDEA to go away as it stands in the way of privatization. Parents, keep up this “lazy school” attitude that I’m hearing, and no one will be left to provide special education services anymore.

      The shortages are so ridiculous my very well paying district is recruiting from the Philippines. The candidates would sink in our system. They have zero experience with special ed law, assessments, etc. The sped job is impossible with the caseloads coupled with lack of resources. Well meaning people who went into this field because they had a mission to help others are burning out and leaving special education.

      Congress is supposed to fund 40 percent of idea but has never funded more than 14 percent. Understand who really doesn’t have the best interests of your children at heart. It’s the policy makers and not the special educators. Also, understand most educators are trying to work with their own kids at home. All of this just makes me regret accepting a school job over a position at Kaiser. There the resources are plenty and caseloads manageable. I’m tired of sacrificing my health and relationships for the time this job requires when I hear the comments about laziness and bottom of the barrel from parents. Keep it up and no one will be left to work in this field.

      That’s the way we are heading anyway. Thank DeVos for creating impossible standards that will only encourage more people to leave. Spend time advocating for special education as opposed to bashing the powerless schools and special educators who do the best they can given an incredible lack of resources.

  9. Jerry 4 months ago4 months ago

    Excellent! About time someone stood up for our kids.

  10. Charles Van Riper 4 months ago4 months ago

    The education secretary has not worked on the frontlines of special education. Clearly we need someone else in that leadership position who considers how to address education in a pandemic environment.

  11. Sparkle 4 months ago4 months ago

    This is absolutely insane, untenable and unrealistic. They know good and well there is no possible way schools can fully meet some parts IDEA regulations while not being face to face; they are simply leaving the door open for onerous litigation for things that are far beyond the schools control. Due to this, I suspect schools will have no choice but to re-open and be face-to-face in order to avoid the coming onslaught of impartial … Read More

    This is absolutely insane, untenable and unrealistic. They know good and well there is no possible way schools can fully meet some parts IDEA regulations while not being face to face; they are simply leaving the door open for onerous litigation for things that are far beyond the schools control.

    Due to this, I suspect schools will have no choice but to re-open and be face-to-face in order to avoid the coming onslaught of impartial hearings and the monstrous costs. They will simply have to put everyone’s health and lives in jeopardy because politicians pandering to the special education advocates and lawyers. Absurd.

  12. James Lynett 4 months ago4 months ago

    DeVos is a fool. First she drags her feet on funding help to schools already allocated by Congress now this. Please tell me how you do an initial assessment on a 3 year old remotely?

    SPED teachers are already working their tails off to respond to student needs. This is just a slap in the face. Where are the parents screaming about the underfunding of SPED by the federal government instead of threatening more lawsuits so that districts can go broke?

  13. Ruta Louise Paul-Irons 4 months ago4 months ago

    Thank you!!!

    The SpEd Program is essential to all learners, enabling students to be met at their learning abilities and skills at a pace which will allow them more Confidence on their learning journey as time passes.

    Replies

    • Tosha Mobley 4 months ago4 months ago

      Ruta Louise Paul-Irons, I too am an advocate for students with disabilities. I have over 20 years of providing services as a special educator to students in public schools. One thing that many parents and some politicians and educators forget is that the law provides for a free and appropriate education. The safety provision is first and foremost at hand for all educators. We are obligated and mandated to care for the safety and protection of … Read More

      Ruta Louise Paul-Irons,

      I too am an advocate for students with disabilities. I have over 20 years of providing services as a special educator to students in public schools.

      One thing that many parents and some politicians and educators forget is that the law provides for a free and appropriate education. The safety provision is first and foremost at hand for all educators. We are obligated and mandated to care for the safety and protection of all students. That means even if I knowingly had the flu and I purposefully exposed my students to the flu, I have violated that students civil right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

      In this case, our states and our country knowingly understand the possibility of violating individual freedoms here in the United States, by deadly exposure to an airborne virus. Why then would some people perpetuate the advent of violence one to another? I liken this to gang violence and gun violence. Without the skill to negotiate, death is the only alternative …

  14. Christen Doyle 4 months ago4 months ago

    Am very happy to hear this! I am a Homeschooling parent regardless of the Corona situation of a child with a disability.

  15. shirley garcia 4 months ago4 months ago

    Does that mean that my kids can get their IEPs right now while the schools are closed?

    Replies

    • Jennifer 4 months ago4 months ago

      Yes!!!

    • Tosha Mobley 4 months ago4 months ago

      Ms. Garcia, If you're commenting is because your schools or district is not providing any services or any attempts to offer services to you and your student virtually, then you have an absolute lawsuit against them. However, if your school is providing services as adequately as possible virtually, then I plead to you and others who feel that all services must be and should be provided to really consider that the safety of not only … Read More

      Ms. Garcia,

      If you’re commenting is because your schools or district is not providing any services or any attempts to offer services to you and your student virtually, then you have an absolute lawsuit against them. However, if your school is providing services as adequately as possible virtually, then I plead to you and others who feel that all services must be and should be provided to really consider that the safety of not only you and your child but the professionals is what is at hand.

      • May James 4 months ago4 months ago

        That is not true across the board. Some districts are providing instruction, some are not. If school is closed, instruction and services are not provided for any students

    • Seth 4 months ago4 months ago

      If you have multiple children trying to get an IEP at same time, I have concerns even without the emergency. That is not how it works. Parents are not fully informed about the IEP process and many seem to think they just ask for one, and get it. Wrong. I wasted so much time with parents hoping their child has a disability to get an IEP. What is going on today? Most kids are just … Read More

      If you have multiple children trying to get an IEP at same time, I have concerns even without the emergency. That is not how it works. Parents are not fully informed about the IEP process and many seem to think they just ask for one, and get it. Wrong. I wasted so much time with parents hoping their child has a disability to get an IEP. What is going on today? Most kids are just average – that is fine. Being average is not a disability.

      DeVos just proposed her thoughts. Congress will pass and finalize any changes and will do the right thing for children and teachers since DeVos is totally out of touch. I am not putting myself at risk just because some woman appointed to department secretary said something without proper experience or knowledge. DeVos never was a public school educator. She is not aware of what it is to teach in a classroom let alone know the full special education process. Her comments are actually dangerous.

    • ML 4 months ago4 months ago

      No