by Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop | March 9, 2021
Nearly a year after schools nationwide shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, some members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the impact of the closures on students with disabilities.
Four Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives said Monday that they want to see a bipartisan investigation looking at the effects of the closures on children with disabilities as well as state and local compliance with federal special education law.
“Students with disabilities are falling behind. States and localities are not meeting even the minimal requirements. We are hearing from parents across the U.S. whose children with disabilities are bearing the greatest burden as schools remain closed,” reads a letter from Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., James Comer, R-Ky., Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
The correspondence was sent to Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., James Clyburn, D-S.C., Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., all of whom chair key House committees.
The letter includes the experiences of three families of students with autism and Down syndrome who have struggled to access appropriate services for their children during the pandemic and emphasizes research suggesting that schools can reopen safely.
“The science is clear — it is safe to reopen schools. Getting all children back to full time, in-person instruction, especially those with special needs and disabilities, must be a bipartisan priority. If states or localities are violating federal civil rights laws to the detriment of students, they must be investigated, and their actions corrected,” the Republicans wrote.
The lawmakers said they are concerned that students with special needs are missing out on services and about the impact this may have on their mental health. They note that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that a lack of in-person schooling “may disadvantage” those with disabilities.
“We urge a bipartisan oversight request to CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide data related to experiences of special education schools that have reopened or special education students that are attending school in person,” the letter states. “Further, the CDC and the NIH should provide studies on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with disabilities in the U.S. and other countries.”
Scott, the Democrat who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, is “equally concerned about the impact the pandemic has had on students with disabilities,” according to an aide.
“That is why the chairman supports the American Rescue Plan, which will invest nearly $130 billion in safely reopening schools, including $3 billion in new funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” the aide said, referring to a COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress. “If Republicans want to support students with disabilities, they should vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan.”