Fairfax schools failed to provide proper education to students with disabilities, authorities say

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Fairfax County Public School buses set idle at a middle school in Falls Church, Va., Monday, July 20, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Fairfax schools failed to provide proper education to students with disabilities, authorities say

Fairfax County Public Schools failed to provide an adequate education to students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Education announced Wednesday.

The federal agency said that during its period of remote instruction from March 2020 to the spring of 2021, Fairfax County Public Schools did not provide a “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities, in violation of federal law.

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In a Wednesday press release, the department said that an investigation by the Office for Civil Rights had found that the district “failed to provide thousands of students with services identified in the students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans during remote learning.” IEP and 504 plans are how school districts are supposed to ensure that students with disabilities are afforded a “free appropriate public education” as required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a learning disruption that impacted schools around the world as they tried to balance the need for health and safety to combat the transmission of the COVID virus while continuing to support students’ academic, social, and emotional growth,” the school district said in a Wednesday statement. “In an effort to ensure continued support for students during an unprecedented time, FCPS implemented temporary learning plans for all students with IEPs in April 2020.”

The department says that those temporary plans by the school district included informing staff that if a student did not receive a “free appropriate education” during the period of remote instruction, the district did not have to provide remedial learning. The district also “reduced and placed limits on services and special education instruction provided to students with disabilities based on considerations other than the students’ individual educational needs.”

The department and FCPS have now entered into a resolution agreement that requires the school district to implement a plan for all current students with disabilities “to determine if compensatory services are warranted.”

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Under the terms of the agreement, FCPS must appoint an administrator to oversee the implementation of the plan. The school district is also required to report the results of its efforts regularly to the Office for Civil Rights.

In a statement, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said: “I am relieved that the more than 25,000 students with disabilities in Fairfax County will now receive services federal law promises to them, even during a pandemic, to ensure their equal access to education.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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