Education Department Releases K-12 Guidance amid Coronavirus School Closures

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has released resources for K-12 teachers and local officials on managing student privacy and ensuring disabled students receive required services during school closures due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, since the federal education department issues directives regarding requirements, assessments, and accountability to all local public school districts, the department is considering “flexibilities” during this time of many school closures amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are working closely with our inter-agency partners to provide state and local leaders the information they need to ensure the health and safety of their students and educators,” said DeVos in a press statement. “We will continue to work alongside them and provide them the flexibilities they need in order to best support their communities.”

The resources consist of guidance to help education leaders protect student privacy, i.e., managing public health issues related to coronavirus while protecting the privacy of student education records and to ensure students with disabilities continue to receive the services required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Additionally, the education department released information on the “flexibilities” that will be permitted when it comes to accountability standards that are required by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Specifically, the press statement says that, should a school be closed for an extended period and be unable to meet federal requirements due to absenteeism, the education department would “consider a targeted one-year waiver so that the participation rate or absenteeism metric would not be factored into the school’s Academic Achievement indicator.”

The department has posted a “fact sheet” for K-12 schools regarding such “flexibilities.” Regarding federally required state assessments, for example, the department states in the document:

[D]ue to the unique circumstances that may arise as a result of COVID-19, such as a school closing during the entire testing window, it may not be feasible for a State to administer some or all of its assessments, in which case the Department would consider a targeted one-year waiver of the assessment requirements for those schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances. States with schools that must close due to the COVID-19 may also want to consider whether it is possible to adjust or extend the testing window to accommodate as many students as possible, including students in schools that were closed for some period.

Similarly, a “Q & A” document has been posted to assist state and local education officials with information regarding IDEA and how to continue services to disabled students during school closures.

The IDEA guidance states that, if local education authorities continue to provide education to the general student population during a school closure, then they must also ensure disabled students have equal access to those education opportunities.

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