Separate documents were recently released by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
In a document titled Questions and Answers for K-12 Public Schools In the Current COVID-19 Environment, the USDE reminded schools of their obligations to special education services and civil rights laws regardless of whether students are learning in-person or remotely. The nine-page Q&A document also emphasized that schools must still accept harassment complaints and investigate the allegations under the new Title IX rule, which went into effect August 14, 2020, even if schools are only offering distance learning. Schools are not allowed to have blanket policies that prohibit new complaints from being submitted and accepted or to pause investigations and proceedings.
Guidance from OCR said that although schools should make every effort for in-person learning opportunities, they cannot prioritize reopening plans for groups of students based on their race, national origin or color. The USDE, however, said schools may be required to provide in-person instruction for students with disabilities based on their individual needs. The guidance documents are in response to questions from the education community and to add clarity to existing law or policy, according to the department.
In explaining why schools cannot phase-in in-person learning options based on a student’s “race, color or national origin,” OCR said such preferences would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, schools may be required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide in-person services to certain students with disabilities so those students can receive a FAPE.
To view the Questions and Answers for K-12 Public Schools In the Current COVID-19 Environment, click here.
To view the document titled Questions and Answers Regarding the Department’s Final Title IX Rule, click here.
Information provided by Education Dive.