Cassidy, Murphy release bipartisan principles to support students with disabilities during COVID-19

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Senators Call for Additional Funding in Next Stimulus Package, Write Letter to Education Secretary DeVos Asking for Clear Guidance to Protect Students with Disabilities

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT.), both members of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, on Tuesday released bipartisan principles to support students with disabilities to ensure they receive full and equitable educational services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They included these principles in a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to ask for clear guidance to protect the needs of students with disabilities during and following nationwide school closures.

“Special education children need more resources to adapt to a distance learning environment. School systems must be equipped to provide these resources for those who do not otherwise have them,” said Dr. Cassidy.

“Our education system is grappling with the transition to distance learning due to COVID-19, but now is not the time to backtrack on our commitment to provide a quality education to all students with disabilities. Instead, this is a moment where Congress needs to provide additional guidance and resources to schools to make sure that they comply with federal disability education laws despite the circumstances,” said Murphy. “These principles, which should form the basis of legislation in the next COVID relief package, acknowledge that states and school districts will need some flexibility regarding timelines during this crisis. But our principles also underscore the need to maintain the core protections of IDEA and the need for Congress to provide specific funding to support students with disabilities, and we hope Congress will include these resources in the next relief bill.”

In the bipartisan principles, Cassidy and Murphy called on the need (1) to preserve the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities throughout closures and support creative remedies to lost learning once schools reopen; (2) to keep additional flexibilities granted in timeline requirements under federal law narrow, targeted, and temporary, while maintaining other requirements to provide FAPE, to engage parents in the process, and to ensure due process to parents; (3) to maintain congressional and U.S. Department of Education oversight and accountability related to the progress of students with disabilities; (4) for the U.S. Department of Education to communicate current flexibilities in a clear and timely manner through guidance and to more actively support states and school districts through robust technical assistance; and (5) for Congress to provide supplemental funding to states and districts so they can maintain learning for students with disabilities and provide additional services once schools reopen.

The senators cited requests from schools and advocates for at least $10 billion allocated for IDEA to help schools meet the law’s requirements during and immediately following the period of school closures.

The bipartisan principles and the letter to Secretary DeVos follows and can also be read hereand here.

Bipartisan Principles for Supporting Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 National Emergency

The following are bipartisan principles introduced by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that are essential to ensuring the full and equitable provision of educational services to students with disabilities and maintaining rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) throughout the COVID-19 National Emergency. 

Principle 1: Preserve Free Appropriate Public Education

We must preserve the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), through providing essential and equitable services to students with disabilities throughout closures and through creative remedies to lost learning once schools reopen. No set of circumstances is too big to justify breaking this fundamental promise to students and families.

Principle 2: Engage Parents, Ensure Due Process

We believe that, while some extension and flexibility in timelines is warranted, other requirements to provide FAPE, to engage parents in the process, and to ensure due process rights to parents should remain. Any IDEA timeline flexibilities granted to states and districts must be narrow, targeted, and temporary. Now is not the time to renege on our commitment and responsibility to support students with disabilities and protect their rights by granting broad waivers.

Principle 3: Maintain Oversight and Accountability

Congress and the Department of Education must maintain oversight and accountability functions related to the progress of students with disabilities. Even during this exceptional crisis, the legislative and executive branches must work together to make sure that schools continue to meet their obligations to serve all students to the best of their ability and to include parents fully in decisions about their child’s education.

Principle 4: Communicate Current Flexibilities Clearly and Provide Assistance

Where current flexibilities exist, the Education Department must communicate them in a clear and timely manner through guidance and providing robust technical assistance, while speaking clearly to specific concerns. States and districts need certainty regarding the extent of the flexibility and their obligations during this time so there is no fear of losing federal funding, while parents need certainty that their children will continue to receive the services they are entitled to under law.

Principle 5: Provide Funding to States and School Districts

Congress must provide necessary supplemental funding to states and school districts so that they can maintain learning for students with disabilities as well as provide additional services when schools reopen. We note that advocates for students with disabilities have recommended Congress appropriate $10 billion to help schools meet IDEA requirements during and immediately following the period of school closures. Resources should be targeted toward ensuring students can fully access distance learning and virtual services that replicate students’ accommodations to the extent possible, in addition to supporting the school personnel necessary to provide an equitable education for students. Further, resources should support the planning and implementation of innovative strategies to get students with disabilities back on track when schools reopen.

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