NCLD Releases “Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools”

The onset of COVID-19 has changed public education in many ways and the 2020–2021 school year will pose many new challenges. Students have lost valuable instructional time. Families have been left out of important conversations and decisions. And educators have been operating without much needed guidance, support, and resources. In light of these challenges, the commitment to meeting the needs of every learner and designing a learning environment that is inclusive and responsive to all has never been more important.

NCLD’s newly-released Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools shares specific actions  school and district leaders can take to prioritize equity and inclusion as they rethink their approach to public education in the COVID-19 world. The principles are focused around meeting the needs of students with disabilities with the understanding that there may be additional considerations for students with disabilities who also come from low-income families or who are students of color or English learners. The intersectionality of these identities must be recognized and the needs of the whole child must be met by their schools.

Principle #1: Health and Safety

The first priority of states and districts must be ensuring the health and safety of students, educators, and school staff. Some students with disabilities may require one-to-one support or may be medically fragile or have other health conditions that place them at higher risk of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

  • States and districts should develop plans ensuring that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment and beside their peers without disabilities to the greatest extent possible. 
  • States and districts should follow all Centers for Disease Control recommendations for reopening schools in a way that keeps students, educators, and staff safe and healthy. 
  • States and districts should develop plans that provide instruction to students five days per week—whether virtual or in-person—and offer meaningful opportunities for students’ social and emotional needs to be met.
  • States and districts can convene workgroups to determine how best to manage student and family health data in a way that protects privacy and ensures the health and physical safety of the school community. 

Principle #2: Informed and Responsive Planning

States and districts must collaborate with all relevant stakeholders, including families of students with disabilities, to develop plans that fully meet the needs of students with disabilities during the 2020–2021 school year. 

  • States and districts should first learn from the 2019–2020 school year and take steps to determine how well schools met the needs of students and families, engaging with stakeholders through focus groups, surveys, and listening sessions. Districts and states can identify successful strategies and provide technical assistance to schools to expand those best practices and improve services and instruction for all students going forward. 
  • States and districts can inform their 2020–2021 planning by determining what new challenges students and families are facing, and then working with them to determine their needs for the new school year and what supports and strategies schools can implement. 
  • State and district plans should explicitly address how the unique needs of students with disabilities will be met. This should include specific strategies to provide the needed instruction and services—whether academic, behavior, or social and emotional—to help students with disabilities make up for lost instruction and continue to make progress in grade-level, developmentally appropriate, standards-based curriculum. 

Principle #3: Equity in Funding 

States and districts should target funds to schools and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including students with disabilities. 

  • States and districts must continue to abide by supplement, not supplant (add to, not replace) and maintenance-of-effort (not reduce spending from one year to the next) provisions under federal laws—including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These provisions protect students with disabilities from receiving a substandard education. 
  • States and districts can prioritize closing the digital divide and ensure that students not only have access to internet connectivity and technology but that students with disabilities have access to appropriate assistive technologies and accommodations to benefit from distance learning opportunities. 
  • States and districts should not allocate funding to services or programs (e.g., voucher, fee-for-service, or for-profit programs) that in any way discriminate against students, including those with disabilities, or that take public funds from public schools. 

Principle #4: Reimagine Learning

States and districts must prioritize high-quality instruction and educational experiences, whether in person or through blended learning, and provide opportunities not just to remediate student learning but to accelerate it. 

  • States and districts should invest funds in a way that closes the digital divide and that aims to provide students equitable access to online instruction through high-speed internet access and appropriate assistive technologies. 
  • Districts should revisit curriculum decisions and ensure that educators are using evidence-based instructional strategies. Where districts are offering new pathways to learning (such as project-based learning or competency-based learning), they must provide the necessary supports, infrastructure, and accountability systems to meet the needs of students with disabilities and keep them on track.

Principle #5: Student and Educator Supports

States and school districts must ensure that students’ academic, social, and emotional needs are addressed effectively upon their return to school. This means that educators and other school professionals must have the resources to effectively serve these students in a comprehensive way, in a working environment that is safe and that addresses educators’ own mental health, physical health, and emotional well-being.

  • Districts should offer training to educators and develop plans that encourage increased communication and collaboration with families in order to provide students with disabilities maximum access to the instruction and services outlined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). 
  • States and districts should invest funding in and develop plans to provide support to students and staff who are experiencing trauma, homelessness, or any other life circumstance that results in increased mental, physical, social, or emotional health needs. 
  • Districts should develop a plan for meeting their obligation to evaluate students suspected of having a disability under IDEA upon their re-entry to school. Special care and attention should be given to determining whether a student’s difficulties are due to a disability, rather than a consequence of lost instruction or trauma experienced during school closures. Schools should be ready to provide appropriate supports or services in either case.
  • States and districts can invest in more robust resources, professional development, and support for educators who are struggling to provide evidence-based instruction and support students with disabilities, particularly in a virtual learning environment, and who may be navigating professional and personal COVID-related obstacles.

Principle #6: Promotion, Transition, and Graduation

States and districts must help students with and without identified disabilities stay on track for promotion and graduation during the COVID-19 crisis. 

  • Districts should develop policies that lead to equitable pathways for grade promotion for students with disabilities.
  • Districts should develop policies and plans to ensure that, even in light of COVID-19 restrictions on in-person activities, students with disabilities secure appropriate documentation needed to receive accommodations in the workplace or in postsecondary education settings after high school, including a re-evaluation where necessary. 
  • Districts should conduct transition planning and provide postsecondary education guidance in ways that are flexible and responsive to student needs during COVID-19. This might include virtual educational and career counseling activities and virtual work-based planning opportunities.

National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Calls on Congress to Follow Department of Education Recommendations, Preserve IDEA

WASHINGTON – April 28, 2020 – U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued a report to Congress on recommended waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Secretary made clear her intent to preserve the core tenets of IDEA and reduce barriers to learning. The only substantive recommendation put forth related to IDEA is a waiver of the initial evaluation timelines and procedures for Part B, particularly for students transitioning from Part C to Part B—and only until health officials deem it safe for professionals to meet with students again in-person, not longer.

“We are encouraged to see the extent to which Secretary DeVos protected IDEA in this report. It is clear that the Department took a careful and deliberate approach to making this recommendation,” said Lindsay Jones, President & CEO of NCLD. “Their comprehensive look at the statute certainly revealed the extensive flexibility that is already available in IDEA. This report reaffirms the concept that children should continue to receive the help they are entitled to, and the obligation to serve them does not diminish, even during a crisis.”

Now, NCLD calls on Congress to follow these recommendations. Congress must work to pass another law in response to COVID-19 that protects IDEA for the 7 million students with disabilities who rely on it and invests substantially in our nation’s schools. 

Our full statement can be found here.


For more information, please contact:

Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy 

Policy & Practice Series: How to Serve Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

During this unprecedented situation, two things are clear: students with disabilities still have their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and educators and families must work  together to ensure students with disabilities keep learning. It isn’t easy, and there is still much to learn. But we must work together to do as much as we can for all students.

NCLD has compiled common questions, emerging best practices, and examples of how educators, schools, districts, and states can and should move forward during this challenging time without stepping back from IDEA or civil rights. 

These documents are the first in a series that will highlight good ideas, creative thinking, and concrete examples of how families, schools, and communities are working and continue to serve students with disabilities. To get through this, we’ll have to be creative and innovative. We’ll need to work together and help each other.  Let’s start here, and now.

Resources & Tools: COVID-19

Parents, educators, and students continue to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis as they navigate their new normal of schooling children at home, working jobs remotely, and managing virtual education environments. 

NCLD believes that every student deserves equal access to educational opportunities. We want educators and parents to feel supported as they innovate during this school year, which is why we have provided the following resources and information that schools and districts so desperately need.

We continue to update this webpage regularly in order to be a trusted resource to our community.

Parent Resources

Parent Resources

Learn more about what you can do as a parent to support your child during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn More

Young Adult Resources

Young Adult Resources

From college transitions to workforce issues, learn how you can continue to succeed during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn More.

Educator Resources

Educator Resources

Learn more about what you can do as an educator to support students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn More

Legislative Updates

Legislative Updates

Find out the latest news from Washington, D.C.. Learn More

Gloria Avila, an Everyday Champion Parent Award Winner, has seen firsthand how the pandemic has affected students with LDs. Her daughter Kiki deals with math and reading learning differences. Gloria has supported Kiki by preparing and organizing her virtual learning schedule each day. Watch more stories like Gloria’s here.

Amazon Alexa Resources for Students with Disabilities

Amazon Alexa Resources for Students with Disabilities

In the best of times, students with learning and attention issues often struggle with managing routines, keeping track of assignments, navigating schedules, and performing other tasks that keep them on track for success. COVID-19 has made all these daily activities even harder, placing new responsibilities on students and families to get organized and stay up to speed with assignments. The Amazon Alexa Team reached out to NCLD for feedback and expertise, and we’re pleased to share these exciting new Alexa resources with you. See here!

Educating All Learners Alliance

Educating All Learners Alliance

NCLD is a proud founding partner of the newly launched Educating All Learners Alliance, a resource hub aimed at helping educators reach all students during the #COVID19 pandemic. Learn more.

Congress Passes CARES Act in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

This afternoon, the House passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the ‘‘CARES Act” which will make many important improvements to help our nation during the COVID-19 crisis. We expect the President to quickly sign the bill into law.

Importantly, the bill: 

  • Provides nearly $25 billion for food assistance such as SNAP and child nutrition programs;
  • Increases unemployment insurance benefits by $600 per week for up to four months;
  • Provides direct payments to eligible individuals and couples (up to a certain income threshold);
  • Includes $100 billion in grants to healthcare providers for treating coronavirus plus a 20 percent bump in Medicare payments; 
  • Offers a 6-month suspension of federal student loan payments; and
  • Includes tax credits for employees to incentivize keeping employees on payroll.  

Education Provisions in the CARES Act

When it comes to education, the bill allows the Secretary of Education to waive provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Specifically, states can apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive federal requirements under ESSA such as the requirement to administer state assessments, provide educator training in person, and the limits on funding spent on technology for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Institutions of higher education also have increased flexibility to provide education virtually.  

Regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the bill does not provide waiver authority to the Secretary of Education, but does require ED to submit a report to Congress within 30 days indicating which waivers may be needed to help states and districts comply with IDEA. (NCLD is and will continue to work to protect IDEA during this time and we’ll need your help! Stay connected for more information on how you can get involved.)

Funding Boosts in the CARES Act

The total cost of the package is more than $2 trillion. Of particular importance to our community, the law provides $30.75 billion to support public schools and institutions of higher education. Specifically, the Act allocates:

  • $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education to use for planning and coordinating during long-term school closures and purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students.
  • $3 billion for Governors in each state to allocate, at their discretion, emergency support to school districts and institutions of higher education most significantly impacted by coronavirus. 
  • $14.250 billion for institutions of higher education to be used to defray expenses such as lost revenue, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, and grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care. 

Other provisions in the bill that impact our students and families include:

  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grant for immediate assistance to child care providers to prevent them from going out of business and to otherwise support child care for families, including for healthcare workers, first responders, and others playing critical roles during this crisis.
  • $750 million for Head Start programs to help respond to coronavirus related needs of children and families, including making up for lost learning time.
  • $1 billion for Community Services Block Grant for local community-based organizations to provide a wide-range of social services and emergency assistance for those who need it most.
  • $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs to increase flexibility for schools to feed students. 
  • $15.51 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in anticipated increases in participation as a result of coronavirus. 

NCLD is pleased to see this much-needed investment in our schools and communities as we face this unprecedented crisis. However, more is needed. The bill included no funding to close the “homework gap” and provide students with internet access or equipment at home. 

Next Steps for Advocates

Even with the additional funding provided by the CARES Act, there will be a need for more guidance and greater clarity to ensure that states and districts direct these funds toward increasing equity. Funds must be used to support and provide access to students with disabilities, low-income students, English learners, and others who are most impacted by this crisis.

As we near the date in April when Secretary Betsy DeVos submits her report on IDEA waivers, NCLD will be working hard to protect civil rights. Be sure to sign up for our emails so you get real-time alerts and can lend your voice to the cause. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We need your support to ensure all schools can continue to educate all students.

COVID-19: A Look at the CARES Act Education Proposal

After passing a bill earlier this week and taking preliminary steps to help our nation amidst the coronavirus crisis, Congress is hard at work on a third package. This time, it includes changes to federal education laws that have NCLD and our fellow advocates very concerned. And it falls far short of the provisions the disability community needs and deserves during this pandemic.

The bill released by Senator McConnell on Thursday evening — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — drastically expands the Secretary of Education’s authority to allow states to ignore civil rights provided under federal education laws, including

  • the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA);
  • the Higher Education Act; and 
  • the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 

Though the CARES Act does not include a waiver of requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it does direct the Secretary to provide Congress (within 30 days) with a list of the waivers that will be needed for states to implement IDEA. These waivers would free local educational agencies (LEAs) from their legal obligations, such as completing evaluations for students with disabilities, designing and implementing individualized education plans (IEPs), and providing equal educational access to students with disabilities. While it falls short of issuing these blanket waivers right now, in 30 days it will effectively open the door to dangerous and damaging changes to the most important federal protections for students with disabilities.

We recognize that schools have been thrust into a new reality and are being forced to operate in circumstances that present a number of challenges. And yet we cannot give up on students with disabilities and they cannot be left behind. In this unprecedented time, many schools are finding innovative ways to deliver instruction to all students and connect with families. While all schools may not be able to provide the same quality of instruction and intervention virtually, we must encourage and enable them to keep striving.  We must not eliminate a school’s legal obligations and toss students with disabilities to the side!

In addition, we must dramatically boost funding for districts and schools to provide quality virtual learning and the special education services that students are entitled to. Programs like IDEA, Title I of ESSA, and more will need increases through an emergency appropriations bill  to meet the demand of the present situation. Senator McConnell’s bill does nothing to address the funding crisis states are facing.

This package will likely be voted on and passed within the next several days, at which time the Senate will recess for several weeks. NCLD and our civil rights partners have already issued a statement opposing any IDEA waivers and urging only targeted, time-limited waivers under ESSA.  We’ll continue to push for funding and find ways to make sure education is a top priority in Congress’s response to COVID-19.

We are doing all we can, and we need your help! You can lend your voice to this fight now by sending an email to your Senator and urging them to vote no on Senator McConnell’s CARES Act.

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

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.