March 18th, 2020

Federal Response to COVID-19: What it means for students and families

Our nation is currently grappling with how to contain and respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) and we are faced with a new reality when it comes to healthcare, education, transportation, and daily living. As we navigate this worldwide pandemic, most of us — including families of students with disabilities — have many questions and concerns. 

To keep you as up to date as possible, NCLD is sharing some of the latest developments from Congress and federal agencies that might help your family during this time.

Guidance to Schools and Districts

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a guidance document to support students, families and schools in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, ED reiterated the rights of students with disabilities when schools are closed for long periods of time. For a more thorough discussion of the guidance, see this legal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on school closings and special education by NCLD’s CEO Lindsay Jones in conjunction with Understood.org.

ED also released a document explaining how COVID-19 might affect statewide assessments and indicated that it would continue to work with states or districts who need flexibility within their accountability systems. 

Other agencies are also providing information to help schools and districts navigate this time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shared guidance to schools, offering flexibility in how they provide school lunches to their students in need. The Centers for Disease Control also shared guidance on school closures and factors for consideration during this period of time. 

Assistance for Families

Today, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — a bill to support families and communities impacted by COVID-19. The bill does four main things to combat this virus and support families.

  1. Guarantee sick leave for workers and their families affected by the coronavirus. The bill requires that companies with 500 or fewer employees offer up to 14 days of paid leave for employees infected with the virus. 
  2. Increase food aid for families and seniors in need. This bill provides additional funding for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and suspends the work and work training requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during this crisis. The bill also allows schools to continue to provide meals to students who are eligible for free and reduced priced lunches.  
  3. Free testing for those suspected of being infected. The bill requires – regardless of whether a person has health insurance or not –  a guarantee of free testing for people suspected of being infected.
  4. Expanded unemployment insurance: The bill would direct $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs and waive requirements to those either diagnosed with Covid-19, or those who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.

Many advocates argue that this bill does not go far enough. While the increases to nutrition assistance, testing services, and unemployment insurance are important, more must be done to protect all workers and families — particularly those with disabilities — so they have the ability to stay home when needed in furtherance of public health. 

We expect another legislative proposal to be introduced in the coming days and passed next week which would include an economic stimulus package as well as provisions to increase funding for education programs and services to students and families during this time. We will continue to fight for what families and students need during this time and share resources that may be helpful to you during the coming weeks.

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