USED Letter to Educators and Parents Regarding New CDC Recommendations and Their Impact on Children with Disabilities

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USED Letter to Educators and Parents Regarding New CDC Recommendations and Their Impact on Children with Disabilities

U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a letter to educators and parents regarding new CDC recommendations and the recommendations’ impact on children with disabilities. This letter addresses the needs of students with disabilities as we move into a new phase in our response to the pandemic. The letter addresses the CDC’s February 2022 framework for identifying COVID-19 Community Levels and encourages schools to lead with equity and inclusion to ensure all students have access to in-person learning alongside their peers.

The letter states that to comply with their Federal non-discrimination obligations under Section 504, school districts must make reasonable modifications when necessary to ensure equal access for their students with disabilities, absent a showing that the modifications would constitute a fundamental alteration or undue administrative burden to the program. In addition, if a parent or other member of the IEP or Section 504 team believes that particular COVID-19 prevention strategies are necessary for the provision of FAPE to the student, the team must consider whether, and to what extent, such measures are necessary, based on student-specific information, which may include medical or health records, diagnostic or other evaluative data, or information documented by medical or health professionals. If the IEP or Section 504 team determines that COVID-19 prevention and risk reduction measures are necessary in order for a student with a disability to receive FAPE – where the prevention measures constitute special education, related services, supplementary aids and services under IDEA, related aids and services under Section 504, or program modifications and supports for school personnel – the team must include these in the child’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. 
 
Furthermore, the letter states that federal civil rights laws “stipulate that schools must consider the health and safety needs of their students in order to safely attend in-person. This includes expectations around masking in schools on a case-by-case basis in order to comply with schools’ obligation to make reasonable modifications for particular students with disabilities under federal law.”

In adopting practical, layered strategies to serve all students, schools must refrain from placing all students with disabilities, or all students with disabilities at high risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, in a segregated setting away from their peers without disabilities as the only means to deliver FAPE safely. However, schools may consider whether providing smaller cohorts of group instruction with peers without disabilities can minimize a student’s health risks while maintaining the obligation to provide FAPE in the LRE based on the individual needs of the student with a disability. Similarly, schools should be cautious about singling out or identifying students with disabilities as the cause of any perceived burden to avoid stigma and the risk of bullying and must take steps to address any bullying that does occur.