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Office of Civil Rights Makes Clear Schools Must Make Virtual Education Accessible to Students with Disabilities During Coronavirus by Alison Morris

Posted on April 13, 2020

On March 17th, 2020, Assistant Sectary of Education of Office of Civil Rights (OCR) Kenneth Marcus gave a webinar regarding online access to education during this time. The seven-minute webinar is available to watch here:

Mr. Marcus stated: “online learning is a powerful tool for educational institutions as long as it is accessible for everyone.” (emphasis added).  Mr. Marcus continued: “Services, programs, and activities online must be accessible to persons including individuals with disabilities, unless equally effective alternate access is provided in another manner.”

Under the law, either under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (IDEA) and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), “recipients of federal financial assistance and public entities [i.e. schools districts] must ensure that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity as compared to individuals without disabilities to participate in their services, programs, and activities.”

Schools must provide access to students with disabilities to online/virtual learning so that students with disabilities can “acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same programs and activities as their non-disabled peers with substantially equivalent ease of use.”

The webinar advises school districts: “it is important that websites and online learning are built and developed to be accessible to individuals with a variety of disabilities and compatible with the various forms of assistive technology such individuals might use.”

Schools should be developing, trying, and testing various forms of online learning to assist those with disabilities so they can participate in classes and services going forward. This may take patience and time on both the parents and schools end, but OCR makes clear that schools must take measures to provide students with disabilities services during this time in a manner that is accessible to the student.

We suggest families keep records of any and all services missed during this time so that they can be made up, but to have some patience and work with the schools as they determine the most effective way to provide services to your child with special needs. If you have any questions, concerns, or issues, we at the Cuddy Law Firm are here to assist you during this time.

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