The rapidly escalating COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented national challenge—but we cannot let it become an excuse to obliterate the civil rights of students with disabilities.
Senate Republicans have introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to support states in their efforts to protect their citizens and to infuse cash into the economy. We wholeheartedly support these efforts. Unfortunately, the bill goes too far by empowering the Secretary of Education to suggest to Congress waivers that would eliminate protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (a.k.a. Section 504). This is both untenable and unnecessary. IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act provide the basis for civil rights protections for students with disabilities, and waivers would upset a delicate balance between equity and access that our most vulnerable students rely upon to receive an education in public schools. It is also alarming that this bill would grant the Secretary unprecedented sweeping authority to waive requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Act. The Center is concerned that such broad authority will have a devastating impact on all students, particularly those with disabilities. The legislation could pass as soon as Monday, March 23.
We recognize that we are living in uncertain times, and it may make sense to waive certain statutory requirements, like those around annual testing. But the civil rights of students with disabilities, who already face disproportionate impacts from the disruptions of COVID-19, cannot be up for debate.
We must act swiftly to prevent this dangerous provision from remaining in the bill. Parents, educators, and advocates should encourage their legislators to instead allocate additional funding to support innovative approaches to educating students with disabilities. This funding could be used to pay for time-sensitive needs like software subscriptions and broadband access, extended school years, and other compensatory services, as well as technical assistance to teachers and district leaders.
School networks like Democracy Prep Public Schools, which is already providing online instruction, IEP compliance, and tele-therapeutic services, can serve as a model for others. Furthermore, schools and districts across the nation such as District of Columbia International School, Friendship Public Charter School, and Inspired Teaching in Washington, DC are successfully developing and implementing plans to transition students with disabilities to virtual or home settings and continue services in real time. Instead of reacting to COVID-19 with fear, America’s educators, parents, and student advocates must come together to find new and creative ways to serve all students.
Due to COVID-19, most Congressional offices are not taking phone calls. We recommend emailing your legislators as soon as possible.
SAMPLE EMAIL TEXT
Dear [Legislator’s Name],
COVID-19 is posing unprecedented challenges to schools and educators. However, we must remain committed to providing equitable educational access to all students, including those with disabilities.
As a constituent of yours and a [parent/educator/advocate—include details about your situation if you’d like] I urge you to reject the Senate Republican provision in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that would give the Secretary of Education authority to provide a report to Congress within thirty days on requested waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Millions of students with disabilities receive needed services and supports under both laws in every state.
These unprecedented times require creative solutions—so I ask you and your colleagues to instead increase funding to support education for the seven million American students with disabilities who are currently served under IDEA and the nearly one million who receive accommodations and supports under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
SAMPLE SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS
The Senate is considering allowing @BetsyDeVosED to request the power to provide waivers under IDEA —the law that ensures #specialeducation services in America—as part of the #COVID19 stimulus. Contact your legislators today to fight this proposal. https://tinyurl.com/w2rnegc
A current #Senate proposal would allow @BetsyDeVosED to present Congress with recs re: waiving #specialeducation requirements under both IDEA and Section 504, millions of students with disabilities. Contact Congress to object. https://tinyurl.com/w2rnegc