DoEd Releases Guidance for Students with Disabilities in Public Virtual Schools

US-DeptOfEducation-Seal_LargeThe Education Dept.’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issues guidance to schools to ensure students with disabilities attending public virtual schools are getting the special education and supports that they need.

The guidance focuses on specific requirements in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for public virtual schools and reminds educators that IDEA protected students are entitled to the full range of supports.  IDEA is the law that guarantees the right to a public education for America’s nearly 6.7 million students with disabilities.

Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of educational models involving varying degrees of in-person and online instruction and practice, DoEd said. The guidance addresses the supervision responsibilities of states and the applicability of IDEA’s child find provisions to children attending public virtual schools. The letter also clarifies states’ responsibility to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities attending public virtual schools, said OSERS Acting Assistant Secretary Sue Swenson.

“Children with disabilities attending virtual schools have the same right to a free appropriate public education as children attending brick and mortar schools,” Swenson said. “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.”

Virtual public schools, including virtual charter schools, must be held to high standards and be accountable to the students and families they serve. The department is releasing this guidance to emphasize the importance of ensuring oversight, transparency and accountability for these schools. The most important feature of any school is the quality of the learning experience for students. The department’s goal continues to be to ensure that all students—particularly those traditionally underserved—receive a high-quality public education.

Among the letter’s key points:

  • The educational rights and protections afforded to children with disabilities and their parents under IDEA must not be diminished or compromised when children with disabilities attend virtual schools.  
  • States are responsible for ensuring that all school districts, including virtual schools that operate as school districts, implement the requirements of IDEA.  
  • To ensure FAPE to children with disabilities in virtual schools, each school district must implement the evaluation, eligibility, individualized education program (IEP) and least restrictive environment requirements under IDEA.
  • Each state also must have policies and procedures that ensure that children with disabilities who attend virtual schools are included in all general state and district-wide assessment programs, including assessments with appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments.  
  • In addition, each state and school district, must have child find policies and procedures in effect to ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the state, including those who attend virtual schools, who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located and evaluated.
  • School districts, including virtual schools that operate as school districts, should review the state’s child find policies and procedures as well as their own implementing policies.

OSERS currently funds the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities to research how online learning can be made more accessible. The center also identifies promising practices for K-12 children with disabilities by investigating approaches that address variations in student learning styles within the range of online learning options.

Info: (letter).

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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