The U.S. Department of Education is investigating multiple school districts across the nation over concerns that they have failed to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal agency said that its Office for Civil Rights launched investigations this month looking at the Indiana Department of Education, the Seattle Public Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

Officials said they are examining “possible discrimination against students with disabilities by failing to provide them with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights frequently gets involved in situations in response to complaints. However, this time that doesn’t appear to be the case. Rather, officials said that the inquiries are “directed investigations” meaning that they were initiated by the agency itself.

This process “allows OCR to address possible discrimination that is not currently being addressed through OCR’s complaint, compliance review or technical assistance activities,” the Education Department said in a statement. “By conducting investigations and providing technical support to recipient institutions and school communities, OCR works to ensure that students may attend school free from discrimination.”

Federal officials declined to provide additional details about the investigations or what sparked them since they are currently open.

However, according to The Seattle Times, a letter sent to the head of the Seattle Public Schools indicated that the investigation of that district emerged as a result of local news reports that “the district told its special education teachers ‘not to deliver specially designed instruction,’ and disallowed them from ‘adapt(ing) lessons to each child’s needs.'”

The Indianapolis Star reported on a similar letter sent to the Indiana Department of Education citing reports that parents of students with disabilities had brought multiple complaints to the state about schools forcing kids into “one size fits all” remote learning rather than programs tailored to their individual needs.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Education Department has insisted that schools continue to follow through on their obligations to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the agency has repeatedly pushed back against efforts from school officials who have requested leniency.

Notably, last spring, then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declined to seek any waiver authority to alter core tenets of IDEA.

At the time, the Education Department said “the secretary determined there is no reason that a student’s access to FAPE cannot continue online, through distance education or other alternative strategies.”

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.