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New guidance of full implementation of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amidst COVID-19 pandemic

children painting in the school
A lesson in creativity in elementary school in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Dreamstime

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) sent a letter to its state and local partners reiterating its commitment to ensuring children with disabilities and their families have successful early intervention and educational experiences in the 2021-2022 school year.

This letter outlines a series of question and answers (Q&As) as children and students return to in-person learning. The Q&As focus on topics to help ensure that—regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic or the mode of instruction, children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and that infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services.

“Serving all children and students with disabilities in our public schools isn’t just written into law – it’s a moral obligation and strong equitable practice. When we recognize and celebrate these differences as strengths, and when we help all children make progress toward challenging educational goals, everyone benefits,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “I’m proud that the Department is releasing these tools as part of the federal government’s important and necessary obligation to IDEA.”

The Q&As document on Child Find Under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act released with the letter is the first Q&A in the series and reaffirms the importance of appropriate implementation of IDEA’s child find obligations, which requires the identification, location and evaluation, of all children with disabilities in the states. An effective child find system is an ongoing part of each state’s responsibility to ensure that FAPE is made available to all eligible children with disabilities.

Other topic areas under IDEA include:

  • meeting timelines;
  • ensuring implementation of initial evaluation and reevaluation procedures;
  • determining eligibility for special education and related services;
  • providing the full array of special education and related services, that may include compensatory services, for students with disabilities to ensure they receive a FAPE; and
  • delayed evaluations and early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families served under IDEA Part C.

“The pandemic didn’t alter IDEA’s guarantee of FAPE. This school year will be important for children, students, and educators,” said Katherine Neas, acting assistant secretary of OSERS. “These guidance documents are one more example of federal technical assistance available to help states ensure student success.”

Today’s announcement underscores the need for the Department to continue to provide support to states to ensure they have the information necessary to carry out these important requirements and to make good use of the additional American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to ensure the full implementation of IDEA requirements.

In addition to the resources in today’s announcement, the Department released the Return To School Roadmap, which provides key resources and supports for students, parents, educators, and school communities to build excitement and confidence in returning to classrooms this school year. The Roadmap also outlines how federal funding can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning and how ARP funds can be used to support these reopening efforts.

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