March 31, 2020

I was invited to dial into a meeting and share with Spanish speaking parents what I knew about Special Education during Covid-19 and remote learning.  

A parent spoke about feeling marginalized.  It strikes a chord. 

Prior to the school board meeting this week, I was on a thread with parents from my son’s middle school, and one of them made their point that learning should not be held up for the 10%.  I reminded them that representatives of that 10% were participants in the thread. Further, I shared with them that DeVos quite agreed that the needs of the 10% were not to be a hurdle for districts to use remote learning options.  

Unfortunately, part of the chaos has stemmed from mixed messages coming from the Office of Civil Rights, California Department of Education and the US Department of Education.  Regulations have become so fluid, some districts are giving up.

Consider this:

March 16, 2020

Equity Causes Remote Learning to Pause

US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of Covid-19 In Schools while Protecting the Civil Rights of Students causes districts who have rolled out remote learning to shut their programs down because this Fact Sheet challenges the equity in remote learning.

“School districts and post-secondary schools have significant latitude and authority to take necessary actions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of students and school staff.  School officials have discretion to make educational decisions based on local health needs and concerns, and OCR recognizes this decision-making authority. As school leaders respond to evolving conditions related to coronavirus, they should be mindful of the requirements of Section 504, Tittle II and Title VI, to ensure that all students are able to study and learn in an environment that is safe and free from discrimination.” (p.1)

The document further details the obligation “if the school is open and serving other students, the school must ensure that the student continues to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE),…” and later adds that if remote learning is offered it is as though the school is open.  But, if the school district “does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then a school would not be required to provide services to students with disabilities.” (p.3)

As a result, schools that had been using remote learning, pause their programs. The concern is will they lose federal funding.

March 21, 2020

DeVos Sets Aside Federal Act and Civil Rights

An “Updated” Fact Sheet now from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights AND Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services does a 180.

“To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),† Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.” Is in bold on the first page.

And the shock to my fellow advocates leaves us breathless.

The 10% just had rights stripped away.  It is a wound that was healing until this President made fun of a disabled reporter, and has been festering since bullying people that are different was modeled by the nations leader.  

San Jose Unified has 30,000 students, about 3,000 have Special Education Services through Individual Education Plans (IEP) and more have accommodations supported by their 504. My family has one child with a 504 and the other with an IEP. Both my children access general education currently, but that has not always been our story. 

SO I am keenly aware of how this fall out starts a slippery slope back to where IDEA grew from.  The bottom of the pit is when disabled people were all institutionalized. And though it is easy to say we will never go back to that, many parents are furrowing their brow and holding their breath in concern.

When we stopped removing disabled people from society, we learned they are able people whom our communities benefit from.  I think of Yulissa Arescurenaga, Temple Grandin, and our SELPA IV Legislative Subcommittee chair David Forderer.  For the last four years, David worked with me to advocate for our students at the state level.

Would it not have been better, during this public health emergency, to have OPEN and TRANSPARENT conversations about the limitations of remote learning, and then work with families of students who need more support by training them to use remote learning tools that best fit their children’s’ needs? A public agreement on how to move forward while maintaining civil rights in this time of crisis is what could have the 10% feeling heard and not disenfranchised.

If you are interested in further reading on this subject:

Kristen Brown