Ed Department Urged To Direct More COVID-19 Relief Funds To Students With Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Education is being asked to tell schools to direct significant funding from the recent COVID-19 relief law toward students with disabilities who have missed out on services they were entitled to during the pandemic.
A broad coalition of parents, teachers unions and disability advocates filed an 80-page “petition for guidance” this week with the Education Department. The move comes as school districts are set to see a huge influx of cash from the new law known as the American Rescue Plan.
“The department should issue guidance making clear that ARP Act funds should be used to assist students with disabilities in recovering from disrupted learning and delayed or foregone services due to the pandemic, while also providing proactive suggestions for how this money can be spent to assist these students,” reads the petition filed by the disability nonprofit The Advocacy Institute along with parents of students with disabilities from across the country and teachers unions in Boston; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; Milwaukee; Oakland, Calif. and Los Angeles.
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The petition cites many long-standing issues serving students with disabilities — particularly those of color — that have been exaggerated by the pandemic.
“To date, the federal government has not provided sufficient oversight, or issued meaningful guidance to ensure students with disabilities receive (a free appropriate public education) during and after the pandemic,” the document states. “This petition respectfully requests that the department take immediate action in order to prevent, mitigate and remedy further learning loss and regression for these students.”
The new federal relief act provides $122.7 billion for K-12 schools, 20% of which must be used for programs addressing learning loss. The measure includes an additional $3 billion for services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The coalition behind the petition wants the Education Department to make clear to school districts that they can use recovery funds to hire paraeducators, psychologists and other staff, to create and implement 504 plans, to provide transportation so that students with disabilities can attend school in person and to help students with disabilities with remote education technologies, among other priorities.
In addition, they want “meaningful guidance to ensure FAPE during the pandemic.” While the Education Department has been clear that the requirements of IDEA remain in effect, the petitioners say the agency has been short on specifics and has “failed to confront the hard questions posed by the pandemic or to set specific standards or best practices for how school districts should ensure that students with disabilities are receiving a FAPE.”
The Education Department said it will review the petition once it is received. By law, the agency has 90 days to respond to the request.