WASHINGTON – During this time of crisis for families all over the country, The Arc is relieved that the U.S. Department of Education has reaffirmed the rights of students with disabilities to have equal access to education – pandemic or not.

The CARES Act directed Secretary Betsy DeVos to provide Congress with recommended waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other laws. This week, the Department announced it will not request waiver authority to Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic to give school districts the option to forgo critical provisions of IDEA, the core of federal special education law.

“We are pleased that in its recommendation, the Department of Education is on the side of the nearly seven million students with disabilities in the U.S. and their families, struggling together in makeshift classrooms at home to adapt to distance education. Students with disabilities have the right to special education and related services, even during these very difficult times,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

In her report, Secretary DeVos points to several vital principals that are central to The Arc’s longstanding advocacy in special education, including that “schools can, and must, provide education to all students, including children with disabilities,” “the needs and best interests of the individual student, not any system, should guide decisions and expenditures,” and that “services typically provided in person may now need to be provided through alternative methods, requiring creative and innovative approaches.”

“We recognize the unique challenges educators, students, and families face right now, and greatly appreciate the many schools and districts that are stepping up and working closely with families to ensure the best educational services under these uncharted circumstances. Now, as we brace ourselves for the long-term financial strain on our education system due to COVID-19, we call on school systems and schools to commit to IDEA and provide appropriate education to all,” said Berns.

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