Covid19 and Its Hidden Inequalities In Special Education

While it might yet be too soon to predict the extent to which Covid-19 disrupted students’ learning, what we identified is that disenfranchised students did not receive the services they are entitled to under IDEA during the pandemic. Many districts are still in the process of addressing the challenges and the disruption it created. A whole host of inequalities depressingly large came under sharp focus and the concerns of parents are justified as they see their child excluded from the support others receive. While some districts did rise to the level to the overwhelming magnitude challenge of Covid-19, many others did not.

Without in-school special education and without significant online learning, autistic students and many of their special education peers, fell further behind, lost their skills, and regressed. The extended months of online learning deepened the concern there was for students whose only voice was that of their parents. Parents’ fear was that the ground lost might not be recoverable nor bridged as they saw their children regress knowing how hard it would be for them to catch up when things go back to a sense of normalcy.

While the U.S. Department of Education did stress the district’s responsibility to provide good will efforts to provide special needs students with an appropriate program, it fell short of explaining exactly what this “good will effort” should be. The department did stress the fact that there was no excuse not to educate all students and it also made it clear that civil rights law was not suspended because of covid. Similarly, tens of surveys and analyses of schools show that it took most of the schools, multiple weeks to implement meaningful online instruction and when they did, it was plagued by challenges. Teachers were unfamiliar with online teaching platforms and provided, at best, 2 hours of instruction a day during the time the pandemic spiraled out of control. It came very close to drowning the K-12 system as what was unthinkable quickly became a reality.

Individuals with disabilities education act guarantee a FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) that cannot be provided with online learning for the most compromised students. Parents, who like their children are powerless in the face of the pandemic, have begun to request compensatory hours of instruction to offset the loss their children suffered and continue to suffer from teaching environments that bore little to no resemblance to the classroom.

Equity concerns, continue to abound and the fear that the crisis would aggravate already existing inequalities became reality. Research does demonstrate that low-income parents were 10 times more likely to say their kids were virtually doing no remote learning because of limited access to a device and far more likely to attend a school where remote learning was not offered.