OCR Settles with Los Angeles Schools on Students with Disabilities During Pandemic
Office for Civil Rights Reaches Resolution Agreement with Nation’s Second Largest School District, Los Angeles Unified, to Meet Needs of Students with Disabilities during COVID-19 Pandemic
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on Thursday resolved an investigation of the Los Angeles Unified School District in California with an agreement requiring it to take steps necessary to ensure that students with disabilities receive educational services, including compensatory services, during and resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
OCR investigated the district’s provision during the pandemic of the free appropriate public education (FAPE) to which federal civil rights law entitles students with disabilities. OCR’s investigation found that the district failed to provide services identified in students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and Section 504 plans during remote learning. For example, OCR found that during remote learning, the district:
- Limited the services provided to students with disabilities based on considerations other than the students’ individual educational needs.
- Failed to accurately or sufficiently track services provided to students with disabilities.
- Directed district service providers to include attempts to communicate with students and parents—including emails and phone calls—as the provision of services, documenting such on students’ service records.
- Informed staff that the district was not responsible for providing compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive FAPE during the COVID-19 school closure period because the district was not at fault for the closure. And,
- Failed to develop and implement a plan adequate to remedy the instances in which students with disabilities were not provided a FAPE during remote learning.
The district agreed to resolve these violations by creating and implementing a comprehensive plan to address the compensatory education needs of students with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today’s resolution will ensure that the more than 66,000 Los Angeles Unified students with disabilities will receive the equal access to education to which federal civil rights law entitles them, including compensatory education for any services the district did not provide during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “I am deeply grateful for the district’s commitment now to meet the needs of its students with disabilities.”
Through implementation of the resolution agreement the district will:
- Develop and implement a plan to appropriately assess and provide compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive a FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Designate a plan administrator to implement the plan for assessment of compensatory education.
- Convene IEP and Section 504 teams to determine whether students were not provided the regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet their individual needs during remote learning and determine compensatory education.
- Track and report to OCR the implementation of the plan for compensatory education. And,
- Conduct outreach to parents, guardians, students, and other stakeholders to publicize the plan for compensatory education and the roles of the plan administrator and independent ombudsperson.
The Department of Education made it a top priority since the beginning of the Biden Administration to reopen schools quickly and safely, and ensure all students, including students with disabilities, had equal access to high-quality education during the COVID pandemic. While the Department made clear that students learn best in-person and that states and districts should be using the $130 billion in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to bring students back to in-person learning, it also underscored the importance of supporting students with disabilities and other communities disproportionately impacted during the shift to remote learning.
As part of these efforts, OCR earlier this year released a fact sheet on the obligation to provide compensatory services to remedy educational or other deficits that result from students with disabilities not receiving evaluations or services to which they were entitled during the COVID-19 pandemic. Likewise, the Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services released guidance that addresses the requirement to provide compensatory services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
In addition, the Department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in December published a resource focused on allowable uses of funding under ESSER and GEER (the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund) to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAQ specifically highlights: (1) providing educational and related services under Section 504, including, but not limited to, providing additional instruction and services to students with disabilities, often referred to as compensatory services, to make up for any skills that might have been lost if it is individually determined that the student was unable to receive a FAPE as a result of school closure or other COVID disruption; and (2) supporting students with disabilities under the IDEA, including by eliminating evaluation backlogs and providing support and direct services, such as technical assistance, personnel preparation, and professional development and training.
Under the American Rescue Plan ESSER fund, LA Unified School District received over $2.5 billion in funds to support the safe and sustained reopening of schools and recovery efforts.