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Action Alert! Defend Students' Educational Rights Today! #COVID-19Response


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From Mark Reichert, Interim Executive Director, AER:

To all AER members and friends,

See below the excellent alert from COPAA concerning some mischief afoot in the U.S. Congress right now that would put the education rights of students with vision loss and all other disabilities at significant risk. 

Read the alert below, and please do take action as they advise. Links to guide you through sending a simple email or two, as well as, a draft message template are provided:

Protect IDEA and 504: New Bill Asks Secretary DeVos to Recommend Waivers to Civil Rights Laws

 

Online Version

 

As the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Inc. (COPAA) reported yesterday, negotiations are underway in Congress to provide an additional stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We are actively working on behalf of children with disabilities with Members of Congress and appreciate those who contacted federal policymakers and asked that they not waive requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) at this time. Your actions worked - there is NOT an absolute waiver authority over IDEA in the bill.  However, we cannot stop now, there is still cause for grave concern. 

 

Today, we are providing an update and can share the bill introduced last night in the Senate -- the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act which provides an infusion of cash to key industries, support for health care providers/health care systems and more.

 

Unfortunately, also included in the bill is a provision that directs the Secretary [DeVos] to report back to Congress within 30 days on the waivers needed under the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) see pages 220-231.The bill also gives the Secretary broad waiver authority over the Higher Education Act (HEA), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and Carl D. Perkins education laws.

 

While the COVID-19 outbreak has placed a tremendous and unprecedented strain on schools and districts, we need to let Congress know that now is the time to embrace the IDEA's required partnership between schools and families to innovate, individualize, and, if needed, advocate for more resources or relaxation in funding rules to allow services to continue and to meet student needs. It is not the time to abandon children through waivers, which allow schools and districts to abdicate their responsibility. We must help schools and families work together to find solutions that allow children to receive equitable access to an education and the services that support them without weakening or undoing all of their civil and educational rights.

 

Many of our members have reported examples of schools and districts that are embracing their responsibility and meeting the needs of students while physical buildings are closed.

 

Action: We must not allow Congress to use the national crisis as a reason to justify opening up civil rights laws to harmful amendments in future bills. Therefore, COPAA: 

 

  • ·opposes the requirement for Secretary DeVos to develop a report of needed waivers under IDEA and Section 504. Such a report would provide the basis for the Secretary to recommend any number of waivers that in future bills could upend key civil rights protections.
  • ·opposes giving Secretary DeVos's broad waiver authority under the ESEA because sufficient flexibility is built into the law to allow for state waivers; and
  • supports providing states with additional funding that can be used under the IDEA to:
    • ensure teachers, school leaders, students and their families have needed tools for teaching and learning online and through other virtual methods
    • provide extended school year to students and other compensatory services.

Finally, COPAA is especially concerned that some Members of Congress may use the national crisis as justification for giving Secretary DeVos unnecessary authority to waive key provisions of IDEA, Section 504 and ESSA -- just when our children and their families need protection and rights the most. 

 

Take Action NOW!:

 

 

DRAFT Email

 

DATE

 

Dear Senator/Representative:

 

I am writing as a concerned (insert your role here) I to urge you to stand up for students with disabilities during this crisis and reject the provision included in theCoronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that directs Secretary DeVos to provide a report on needed waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Over 7 million children eligible under IDEA and 700,000 eligible under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act rely on these laws to receive special education supports and services.

 

While the COVID-19 outbreak has placed a tremendous and unprecedented strain on schools and districts, now is the time to embrace the IDEA's required partnership between school and family to innovate, individualize, and if needed advocate for more resources to meet student needs. It is not the time to abandon children through waivers which allow schools and districts to abdicate responsibility. We must help schools and families work together to find solutions that allow children to receive equitable access to an education and the services that support them without undoing all of their civil and educational rights.

 

Teams need flexibility to innovate, individualize, and if needed advocate for additional resources or relaxation in funding rules to allow services to continue and to meet needs of all learners. It is not the time to abandon our kids or for districts to abdicate responsibility.

 

I hope you will help schools by providing states with additional funding that can be used under the IDEA and other education laws. Teachers, school leaders, students and their families all need tools for teaching and learning online and through other virtual methods. Schools can also be supported with funding to provide extended school year to students and other compensatory services.

 

(insert how this closure is affecting your family/families you represent and/or examples of ways schools are already working in partnership to provide services)

 

Please support students with disabilities and their families, who rely upon IDEA and Section 504 to have equitable access to an education.

 

Sincerely,