April 22nd, 2020

Not All Waivers are Alike

 In this unprecedented time, we all need to adapt and be flexible because COVID-19 has disrupted every part of our daily lives. Some waivers can be helpful in ensuring the health and safety of our communities. Others can be harmful to vulnerable students, like those with disabilities. Not all waivers are created equal! Read on to see why NCLD is speaking out against waivers that could undermine the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and how you can help.

Federal agencies are working to provide all sorts of resources and flexibility (aka “waivers”) to help communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those resources come through provisions of the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27. Government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Education (ED), are also providing guidance on flexibilities within existing funding that can be used in response to COVID-19.

What you need to know

Most of the guidance we’ve seen contains necessary clarifications  and is much needed to keep people safe. Some example of waivers that protect the provision of essential goods to families include: 

  • 1135 Waivers –  this allows the Department of Health & Human Services to waive various administrative requirements to increase access to medical services during a time of national emergency
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) waivers – this allows eligible low-income individuals and families via a debit-like card, to purchase nutritional foods and other approved needed items … 
  • Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children waiver – this allows parents and/or guardians to pick up meals for their children, without the student being present. 
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – this allows for flexibility in how federal grants to states are used to provide supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. 
  • Child Nutrition Programs – these allow for flexibility is running the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program,  Special Milk Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, Summer Food Service Program, Team Nutrition Program, and Community Food Systems Program.  

Another category of waivers has been implemented to protect the health of our nation’s population. These include: 

And then there’s education

In the blink of an eye, 124,000 school doors were closed, and 55 million children were, with little or no planning, being schooled at home. Every student, every teacher, every principal, guidance counselor, school nurse, cafeteria worker, EVERYONE was impacted in ways that could not have been imagined and for which no one was truly prepared.  

The ways that schools have responded to this unprecedented challenge has been heroic, and while it’s easy to point to problems, so many ‘bright spots’ have been seen… places where students have been able to keep up with their learning, stay connected with teachers and peers, and remain hopeful that these months away from their school community will soon come to an end. 

What we do NOT need is for schools to lower expectations in how they serve the educational and social-emotional needs of students. And that includes students who receive special education services and supports.  

The ED, Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services has released guidance about how schools must deal with COVID-19 but additional guidance is coming, and it might not be good for students with disabilities. Here’s why. 

The Secretary of Education will submit a report to Congress in the next week explaining why, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, waiving the obligations of states and school districts to fulfill children’s rights to a free and appropriate education is necessary. In other words, school-age children with disabilities and their parents could LOSE THEIR RIGHTS, if even temporarily, to participate in the public education system. No rights. No services. No accountability. NO WAY!

What might this look like? 

  • Children will not receive the services and supports to which they are entitled as specified on the Individualized Education Programs or 504 plans
  • Children referred for special education evaluation and determination of eligibility for support may remain in limbo until school resumes as ‘normal’ (many weeks, and likely months from now)

What should be done instead? 

  • Nothing about the law should be waived, and schools should be encouraged to engage in flexible ‘best practices’ in the given circumstances to provide students the specialized instruction, accommodations and support to which they are entitled 
  • Additional funding should be allocated to schools for ensure that schools and districts can provide virtual learning opportunities that allow students with disabilities to continue to make progress during their time away from school and the specialized services upon which they rely

Is there ever a reason to waive requirements so that we can better protect our nation’s children and families? Yes. That’s what one kind of waiver will do. 

Is there ever a reason to waive the civil rights of children and families? No, that’s what the other kind of waiver might end up doing. 

So speak out and don’t let it happen! Lend your voice before it’s too late… take action, join our #MyIDEAmatters campaign and say no to waivers that will hurt our kids! 

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