FAPE and the COVID-19 Crisis
by Tricia Luker, Sr. Staff Advocate
The Arc of Oakland County, Inc.
March 18, 2020
All Michigan public schools have closed at least through April 6, 2020 to help curb the pandemic spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19. All public school districts must continue to enforce all Michigan and federal laws and regulations applying to students with disabilities.
Michigan districts must consider a student’s right to access a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). Importantly, if a school district implements procedures for curriculum delivery while school buildings are closed, it must consider what that content delivery will look like for students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504.
The U.S. Department of Education, through its Office for Civil Rights, has released a webinar to assist school leaders in ensuring students with disabilities have web accessibility to utilize online learning. In addition, the department published a fact sheet addressing schools’ obligations under civil rights laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The department also has provided tools to support schools in online learning for all students.
Some of the fact sheet highlights for students with disabilities:
- If a district closes and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then that district is not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period of time.
- Once school resumes, the school must restore special education and related services to students with disabilities in accordance with the student’s individualized educational program (IEP). For students entitled to FAPE under Section 504, services must be restored in accordance with any plan developed to meet the requirements of Section 504.
- If school closure prevents a student from receiving services for an extended period of time, the student’s IEP team, or appropriate personnel under Section 504, must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services are needed consistent with the respective applicable requirements. That includes making up for any skills that may have been lost.
- The IEP teams are not required to meet in person while schools are closed. If an evaluation of a student with a disability requires a face-to-face assessment or observation, the evaluation should be delayed until school reopens. Evaluations and re-evaluations that do not require face-to-face assessments or observations may take place while schools are closed, so long as a student’s parent or legal guardian consents.
These same principles apply to similar activities conducted by appropriate personnel for a student with a disability who has a plan developed under Section 504, or who is being evaluated under Section 504.
The Arc of Oakland County will keep you informed as things further develop.