Lehigh University’s annual, week-long Special Education Law Symposium returns in June, building on the success of its recent (2021) symposium, which swelled in registrations to 339, a 70% increase over its last (2019) on-campus iteration. Registrants for this second (2021) virtual symposium via Zoom webinar hailed from 38 states and the District of Columbia.
In addition to the alternative forms of dispute resolution under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the two decisional avenues are adjudicative and investigative. The adjudicative avenue starts with a due process hearing (DPH) and culminates in court proceedings. The investigative avenue is the written state complaints (WSC) process, which provides for judicial appeals in only the minority of states (e.g., Zirkel, 2019). COVID-19 represents a new context of the ongoing issues that are subject to resolution in these two decisional avenues.
Under IDEA, students with disabilities are still entitled to compensatory services once the school year begins, even if school hasn’t officially reopened in person, said Perry Zirkel, Ph.D., J.D., professor emeritus of education and law at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. He recommends requesting a meeting at the beginning of the school year with your child’s IEP (individualized education program) team, so that you can meet and determine your child’s present level of performance.
While the agency’s attempt to differentiate between compensatory and “Covid recovery services” might be well-intentioned, the “differentiation is not all that clear,” said Perry Zirkel, a professor emeritus of education and law at Lehigh University, who frequently blogs about special education.
When schools closed this spring to curb the spread of coronavirus, special education administrators feared the risk of complaints—and potential legal action—from parents and disability rights advocates for running afoul of federal civil rights laws.
Stressed over concerns that they'd be swamped with lawsuits if they could not offer a comparable education for all students, including those with disabilities, some districts were even initially reluctant to offer any online learning.
More than two years after the U.S. Department of Education demanded that Texas education officials provide extra help for thousands of students denied special education, the state has failed to provide clear guidance to school districts, leaving struggling children to flounder, records show. "Schools have an obligation to ask parents for permission to test their child for special education if they suspect a student might have a disability," said Perry Zirkel, professor emeritus of education and law.