U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Releases New Resources on Students with Disabilities (February 21, 2024)

On February 20, 2024, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released four new resources with information for students, parents and families, and schools addressing civil rights of students with disabilities, as well as a data snapshot about education access for students with disabilities drawn from OCR’s 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC).

OCR issued these new resources to inform students with disabilities, and their families and schools, about their legal rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities by institutions that accept federal financial assistance, which includes almost all public schools and public and private institutions of higher education.

“We issued these new resources to give students, including those with asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD, as well as their families and schools, important tools to understand when and how they are protected by federal disability rights laws,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

OCR’s new CRDC data snapshot reports that 8.4 million students with disabilities accounted for 17% of the overall public school enrollment in the 2020-21 school year, the most recent school year for which the Department has civil rights data. Three percent (1.6 million) of the overall student enrollment were students with disabilities who received educational aids and services under Section 504 only. 

The Department’s National Center for Education Statistics estimates that students with disabilities accounted for 21% of undergraduates and 11% of postbaccalaureate students in the 2019-20 school year.

The four new resources address common medical conditions that can be disabilities for purposes of Section 504: asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These resources, which are applicable to all levels of education, explain when these medical conditions trigger protections under Section 504, what kind of modifications an educational institution may need to take to avoid unlawful discrimination, and what an institution may need to do to remedy past discrimination.

OCR also released a new CRDC data snapshot profiling educational opportunities provided to public school students with disabilities during the 2020-21 school year. It reflects troubling differences in the experiences of students with disabilities compared to their non-disabled peers. For example, higher percentages of students with disabilities were physically restrained or secluded than students without disabilities.

Students with disabilities were also overrepresented in disciplinary actions when compared to their total student enrollment. And students with disabilities were underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, and dual enrollment or dual credit programs.

The new resources regarding asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD are available on the OCR website. The new CRDC disability snapshot, and other CRDC data reports and snapshots, are available on the CRDC website.

PDE & PHEAA Host FAFSA Completion Workshop (February 21, 2024)

On February 20, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) joined the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), local postsecondary students and families, and legislators to host a FAFSA® completion workshop, highlighting the importance of applying for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first, and most critical, step in applying for financial assistance for the 2024-25 academic year.

The FAFSA completion workshop gave local students and families the opportunity to correctly and successfully fill out their 2024-25 FAFSA form in person with the help of higher education experts. New this year, the new 2024-25 FAFSA form expands eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell Grants, and provides a streamlined user experience. Applicants will be able to skip up to 26 questions, depending on their individual circumstances. The new and improved FAFSA form could take applicants as few as 10 minutes to fill out.

Filling out the FAFSA opens doors for current and prospective postsecondary students, in addition to federal, state, and institutional aid, including the PA State Grant Program, which has provided over $13 billion in awards to almost 8 million students since its inception. Financial Aid Awareness Month, occurring each February, is celebrated by the higher education community in an effort to provide crucial information to students and families about access to federal, state, and institutional aid. This Financial Aid Awareness Month, students across the country can begin the process of applying for financial aid through the newly updated FAFSA form.

CDC May End Five-day COVID Isolation Recommendation (February 21, 2024)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering the possibility of loosening the five-day COVID-19 isolation guidance that many school systems have been using to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. According to K-12 Dive, the isolation guidance is under review by the CDC with the possibility of revising them to align those recommendations with those used for the flu and RSV.

That would mean that people who have tested positive could return to school and work once they are without fever for at least 24 hours without taking medication and their symptoms are mild and improving. It is believed that such new guidance would help schools to address pervasive student absenteeism exacerbated by the pandemic and which has affected academic performance.

For more from K-12 Dive, click here.

Digging into the Details: Budget Hearings Begin Today (February 20, 2024)

Following the budget proposal offered by Gov. Josh Shapiro earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee will begin the process of dissecting the plan at budget hearings starting today.
Today, the committee will take testimony from the Department of Community and Economic Development beginning at 10 a.m. and from the Department of Revenue at 1 p.m.
Other agencies slated to testify next week include the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and the departments of Aging, Agriculture and Corrections.
The budget hearings will be streamed live at PAHouseGOP.com.
For a full schedule, click here.

Rep. Wild Voices Concerns Over Delayed FAFSA Rollout, Asks USDE for Answers (February 18, 2024)

US Representative Susan Wild form Pennsylvania, a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, along with 70 of her colleagues, voiced her concerns on the delayed rollout of this year’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In their letter, the members of Congress also requested the US Department of Education (USDE) provide answers to questions raised by families and students across the nation and clarity on the timeline.

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“For many students in our community and across the country, the FAFSA is the first step to make higher education more affordable and accessible,” said Congresswoman Susan Wild. “I’ve heard from families and colleges in the Lehigh Valley about the strain FAFSA delays have already had on them, and I’m deeply concerned that additional delays will negatively impact those most in need of aid. I’m urging the USDE to do everything it can to support our students and institutions of higher education.”

In their letter, the lawmakers write, “We write today to ask for more clarity on how the USDE plans to communicate any further delays in FAFSA processing, and how the USDE intends to minimize the potential impact on students and families so they can make the most informed decision possible about their futures, including through providing prompt, clear timelines.”

Approximately 17 million students fill out the FAFSA each year. As a result of the FAFSA Simplification Act, which was signed into law in 2021, the USDE streamlined the application process and updated formulas used to assess students’ financial need. The USDE estimates that these updates will allow 1.5 million more students from low-income backgrounds to be eligible for the maximum Pell Grant award.

Read the full letter here.