DoE: Students with Disabilities at Virtual Schools Must Be Served Adequately

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A letter has been sent by the US Department of Education to address the rights of students with disabilities who attend virtual schools across the country.

The Dear Colleague letter was released by the department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, serving as a reminder to states that students with disabilities who attend virtual schools must receive an education of the same quality that they would gain at a traditional school.  Many students with impairments opt to enroll in online schools in order to have the flexibility of learning from home.

Just about 6.7 million students in the United States have disabilities.

A number of education models have been implemented over the last decade that involve varying levels of in-person and online instruction and practice.  The recently issued guidance takes a closer look at what states are responsible for, as well as how IDEA’s child find practices pertain to children who are enrolled in virtual schools.

The guidance was issued after the department received a number of questions and concerns pertaining to the quality of virtual schools.  Written to state leaders, the letter explained how to best comply with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Specifically, the letter took a closer look at how IDEA pertains to states and public virtual schools.

“Children with disabilities attending virtual schools have the same right to a free appropriate public education as children attending brick and mortar schools,” said OSERS Acting Assistant Secretary Sue Swenson. “States and school districts must ensure that children with disabilities are getting the special education and supports that they need to be successful in school.”

The letter goes on to list the obligations of states in relation to providing students with disabilities a free education at public virtual schools.  In addition, appropriate accommodations must be provided by states as listed within each students’ individualized education program (IEP), and adds that these students must be included in all state- and district-wide assessments, which includes appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments, writes Darlene Aderoju for EdScoop.

In particular, the letter states that the educational rights and protections listed under IDEA concerning children with disabilities and their parents must not be compromised when students enroll in virtual schools.  States are required to ensure that all school districts adhere to the requirements listed under IDEA.

States are also required to have child find policies and procedures that ensure that all children with disabilities living in the state, including those who attend virtual schools, are found and evaluated so that they may receive the special education and related services they need.

The letter also suggests that school districts should review the child find policies in place in their state, as well as their own district.

The guidance was released in an effort to emphasize the importance of ensuring that all students are able to receive a high-quality public education.