News & Updates

Impact of COVID-19 on Students with Disabilities

Published March 23rd, 2020 by Stacey Gahagan

Stacey Gahagan and I would like to provide parents and guardians with information about the impact of the COVID-19 virus on your child's right to a free, appropriate public education as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Since North Carolina public schools began making decisions to close, the attorneys at Gahagan Paradis have been tracking and considering the ever-changing implications for the students we represent. IEP meetings are being canceled, school evaluations have ceased, and deadlines in due process cases are being extended. While school buildings are closed to instruction, some schools have ceased serving students while some are providing virtual services.

On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released Question and Answer guidance pertaining to COVID-19 and students with disabilities. There is a link to the guidance at the bottom of this email. Essentially, if schools do not provide services to students without disabilities during a school closure of more than 10 consecutive days, the school is not obligated to provide services to students with disabilities (students with IEPs and 504 plans). If the school provides services to non-disabled students, the school is obligated to provide students with disabilities equal access to the same opportunities including the provision of FAPE (free appropriate public education). School must ensure, "to the greatest extent possible," each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student's IEP or 504 plan.

On March 17, 2020, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services issued answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to Executive Order No. 117, which ordered the closure of all North Carolina public schools for instruction until March 30, 2020. During the period March 16-March 30, 2020, public schools are not required to provide remote or distance learning, but they may if they are able. Current virtual learning should continue. There is a link to the FAQs below.

On March 21, 2020, the U.S. Office of Civil Rights issued a Supplemental Fact Sheet addressing concerns that federal law presents insurmountable barriers to the provision of remote instruction for students with disabilities. I have added a link to the fact sheet below. OCR points out the ways school districts can provide remote learning and the need to make individualized decisions about compensatory education once schools resume normal operations.

Stacey and I will continue to monitor COVID-19 related issues for students with disabilities. We expect to see some guidance from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) soon. Until that time, we want you to be aware that no exceptions because of COVID-19 have been made to any legal requirements related to students with disabilities. Eligible students continue to be entitled to have an IEP or a 504 plan in place. IEP teams already have the option of using alternative meeting formats including phone and video conferencing. Timelines for initial evaluation and IEP development are not excused. Deadlines to file complaints related to 504 and special education claims are not waived. We will continue to work on individual cases, push for schools to meet deadlines, and update you when DPI releases guidance.

Stay healthy and contact our office if you need to consult with a lawyer.

Warmly, Ann Paradis

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