Today the United States Department of Education issued a supplemental fact sheet clarifying that schools should not forego distance learning for fear of complying with IDEA/504.
At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.
To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),† Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.
Without specifically providing any relief, the supplemental fact sheet recognizes that under the current circumstances a school is unlikely to be able to provide all services in the same manner they are usually provided, and that federal law allows for flexibility. “The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency.”
The 5-page fact sheet also includes a list provided by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) of IDEA timelines that may be extended. While some timelines may be extended by virtue of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the most part, extensions are by agreement of the parties.
The Department’s earlier guidance is available here.