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Secretary DeVos issues Waiver Requests to Congress
On Monday, US Secretary of Education submitted recommendations to Congress regarding any additional waiver authority needed to address issues related to COVID-19 school closures and schools' ability to meet certain mandates outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, among others.
As you may recall, NASP sent a letter to the Secretary and members of Congress urging them uphold the core tenets of IDEA and protect students' and families civil rights while also providing some time limited, and appropriate flexibility in legal requirements. Specifically, we requested a "pause" in special education timelines, including initial evaluations and reevaluations that require in person assessments. To be sure, some evaluations can continue to move forward (e.g. those where assessments were completed before schools closed and reevaluations that do not require any new assessment data).
The Secretary, in her letter, noted that considered flexibility using the following guiding principles:
1. The health and safety of America's students, teachers, parents, and administrators is a top priority;
2. Learning must continue for all students;
3. Decision-making must be based on what is best for students, not the "system;"
4. Parents must be informed about the impact waivers will have on their children's education and consent to those changes; and5. Services typically or historically provided in person must naturally occur differently.
With those principles in mind, DeVos requested two waivers of provisions in IDEA, one of which is of particular importance to school psychologists. The Secretary proposes to extend the transition evaluation timeline for students who receive Part C (infant and toddler) services and who are transitioning to Part B. However, the announcement to include flexibilities in the initial evaluation timelines is confusing. In her report she cites Sec. 614 of the law, which applies to initial evaluations, but only describes it as it pertains to Part C transition evaluations. Clarification is required regarding whether this flexibility applies to all initial evaluations or just to young children transitioning from Part C to Part B. NASP is working with our allied partner organizations, the Department, and members of Congress to seek clarification.
It is important to note that this report is simply a recommendation to Congress; it is up to them to develop, and pass legislation, that provides temporary, targeted and appropriate relief from certain legal requirements during school closures. In less than a week, you sent more than 10,000 letters to Congress urging them to provide flexibility in evaluation timelines during COVID-19 related school closures. In addition, NASP has been involved in several conversations with lawmakers discussing ways to ensure schools educate all students during this time, while also providing appropriate relief. We will continue to work with our colleagues from other organizations and members of Congress to continue this conversation, and we encourage you to also make your voice heard!
To be sure, NASP also recognizes that in order to continue to meet the needs of students during, and after the pandemic, significant funding will be needed. We are working with our partners to secure increased investments for education, and to ensure that some of those funds are specifically reserved to maintain existing staffing levels, and recruit new staff, including school psychologists. Stay tuned for more information this important advocacy activity.
Thank you for all you are doing to support our students and families during this challenging time.