Last week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on returning to K-12 schools safely. Considering that students with disabilities are often left out of the conversation, it was exciting to hear that they were considered in multiple lines of questioning presented by the witnesses and the Senators themselves. From the witnesses, we learned that educators are deeply concerned about the digital divide, the health and safety of students and educators, and delivering high quality academics while making up for lost learning. Nevertheless, school districts across the country are under deep pressure to figure out how to deliver on those objectives, particularly in a manner inclusive of students who are blind or have low vision, while facing significant budget cuts and the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic.
We look forward to students with disabilities remaining a big part of the education conversation and particularly hope to see the House Education and Labor Committee take up these issues in its hearing today entitled, “Budget Cuts and Lost Learning: Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education.”
Some School Reopening Principles for Blind and Low-Vision Students:
- Students should be entitled to the full range of services and skill development that are outlined in their IEPs or 504 plans. If students need compensatory education to make up for lost instruction, they should receive it.
- Teachers should be empowered with the training, guidance, and resources to deliver instruction safely and effectively whether in the classroom or via distance education methods.
- If students with disabilities are the first students to return to the classroom, they and their teachers should not be used as test cases for safety practices. The rights of students with disabilities to participate in the general education classroom should also be protected.
- All online, virtual, and remote education tools should be fully tested for accessibility and nonvisual inclusion before being purchased or implemented. Assistive and accessible technology must be a part of the discussion on digital inequity alongside access to broadband.
- Dedicated funds for IDEA are needed to ensure that schools, districts, and states are prepared to support the unique needs of students with disabilities.
- Part C, Part D, and Section 619 (which cover early intervention for infants and toddlers, and professional development, technical assistance, and technology) are just as important as Part B of the IDEA and K-12 education.
- Federal funds should be used to mitigate forthcoming state budget shortfalls, which could lead to educational cuts as high as 20 or 30%. Cuts of this magnitude will hurt all students but may hit students with disabilities the hardest.
Follow along with today’s House hearing at https://edlabor.house.gov/hearings/budget-cuts-and-lost-learning-assessing-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-public-education.
You can also review the Senate hearing on K-12 education: www.help.senate.gov/hearings/covid-19-going-back-to-school-safely.