Coronavirus bill allows DeVos to waive parts of federal special education law: NYT

Greg Nash

The coronavirus stimulus bill signed by President Trump last week permits Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to waive parts of the federal special education law, The New York Times reported Thursday. 

The $2.2 trillion bill allows the secretary to waive some special education rules as schools across the country struggle to continue education remotely for more than 55 million children during the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretary has 30 days to ask Congress for the authority to waive the law.

Almost 7 million children who traditionally receive specialized education are now learning from home, which makes managing their individualized programs more difficult. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools teaching students with special needs are required to give them a comparable education to their peers. 

Administrators and educators argue that they will not be able to meet these expectations under the new circumstances and could then face lawsuits. Schools may then opt to cancel all education for all students for two months to prevent allegations of unequal treatment.

The School Superintendents Association has requested the department consider waivers from timelines for evaluating students and from the individualized plans. The organization also asked the department for leniency in the mandates in how schools respond to legal complaints, adding that some have been filed in at least four states. 

But parents and special education advocates worry the waivers could set an unexpected precedent, affecting special education in the future. The National Urban League, The Education Trust and other groups called the potential waiver “unnecessary” in a letter.

“You’re taking a temporary disadvantage and making it permanent because it will be hard to recoup that learning loss,” Miriam A. Rollin, the director of the Education Civil Rights Alliance at the National Center for Youth Law, told the Times. “It really is opening a whole Pandora’s box.”

Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said in a statement obtained by the Times the department was reviewing the request and “will respond as appropriate.”

“Secretary DeVos has been clear from the beginning that she is committed to ensuring all students, including students with disabilities, can continue their educations during this national emergency,” Morabito said.

Tags Betsy DeVos Coronavirus coronavirus stimulus package COVID-19 Donald Trump Education Department online classes Special education
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