Parents of children with disabilities and their advocates pushed Secretary DeVos to maintain IDEA obligations for states during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, we won.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted March 27, 2020, gave the Secretary 30 days to issue a report to Congress with her “recommendations on any additional waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” With school systems poised to seize any opportunity for financial relief from the crisis, the risk of statewide IDEA waivers emerged as an existential threat to the rights of children with disabilities during the pandemic.

Parents and advocates quickly mobilized, sending word to their representatives opposing waivers of states’ obligations, even during a pandemic, and offering examples of school districts responding creatively to educate all students under the new circumstances. The U.S. Department of Education heeded parents’ concerns, announcing on April 27, 2020 that it would not seek authority from Congress to waive the core requirements of the IDEA.

In her Report to Congress, Secretary DeVos was “heartened to see many positive examples across the nation of teachers, schools, LEAs, States, as well as Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, rising to meet the needs of those who rely on them.” She concluded that schools “can, and must, provide education to all students, including children with disabilities.” As a result, the “Department is not requesting waiver authority for any of the core tenets of the IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, most notably a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).”

The Secretary’s decision comes as a welcome bright spot in the special education news.

Berney & Sang is grateful to all parents and advocates who took time to contact their representatives about IDEA waivers.

For ongoing updates concerning special education in Philadelphia and resources for parents, check out our COVID-19 page.