Congress, in its recent $2 trillion economic stimulus package known as the Cares Act, included a requirement that DeVos report back on whether she needs congressional approval to provide school districts with IDEA waivers during the pandemic, which has closed virtually all schools. DeVos sought public input and on Monday told Congress that “there is no reason to waive” any IDEA provision that is “designed to keep students learning. ”
DeVos suggested a few flexibilities, including an extension of the timeline for evaluating toddlers with disabilities, but she did not meet the full requests for more IDEA leniency from special-education administrators.
“With ingenuity, innovation, and grit, I know this nation’s educators and schools can continue to faithfully educate every one of its students,” she said in a statement.
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which had urged DeVos to leave the law as is, said in a statement that the Education Department had “rightfully steered clear of recommending any waivers that would alter the tenets of IDEA … supporting every child with a disability’s right to a free, appropriate public education. ”
“While challenging, we know that many schools and districts are embracing their responsibilities as they work with families to meet the needs of students while physical buildings are closed,” it said.
But the Council of Administrators of Special Education said in a statement Tuesday that her action is no more than “a step in the right direction” and characterized her report to Congress as “confusing. ”
“We must now work collaboratively with Congress to ensure a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges,” it said.
The council, along with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, earlier sent a letter to Congress asking for multiple timeline, procedural and fiscal-management flexibilities under IDEA. Those included when students had to be identified and evaluated for special-education services and when districts must respond to legal complaints or review a student’s IEP.
Their letter said in part that school districts “are facing a great deal of compliance challenges which are taking our focus from educating children with disabilities and shifting focusing our effort on paperwork,” and that without flexibility, “we will generate endless cycles of reporting about how COVID-19 caused money to be unspent, evaluations to be delayed, and services and supports that are in IEPs that are not able to be implemented.”
In its statement Tuesday, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education said DeVos’s “announcement to include flexibilities in the initial evaluation timelines is confusing. ”
“Clarification is required regarding whether this flexibility applies to all initial evaluations or just to young children,” it said.
Asked for a comment, Valerie Williams, a spokeswoman for the group, said, “The Hill is aware of our position and needs in this regard,” referring to Congress.
Last week, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sent a letter urging DeVos not to gut the federal special-education law but to allow flexibility that largely supported the special-education administrators. They both released statements welcoming her decision.