The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly been a struggle for most students, educators, and parents. With little notice, districts had to pivot to remote learning platforms, and teachers were made to learn technology and create new ways for children to learn online. Beyond the connectivity and technology issues many students faced and still face, students had to adapt to a new learning environment and the social challenges of learning from home. Many parents are overburdened, especially those who are working and/or have younger children and students with special needs. While there has been a lot of progress made since March 2020, remote learning continues to present significant challenges for children with disabilities.
Because no core tenets of special education laws have been waived, school districts, including those in New Jersey, have an obligation to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its regulations, as well as other special education laws. See 20 U.S.C. §1400 (2004) et seq.; 34 C.F.R. §300.1 (2006) et seq. In order to satisfy the mandates for FAPE, school districts must deliver special education and related services in accordance with students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs). See 20 U.S.C. §1401 (9)(D). According to federal guidance issued at the onset of the pandemic, school districts should provide special education services to the greatest extent possible. See U.S. Dep’t of Educ., “Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak” (March 2020); see also U.S. Dep’t of Educ., “Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of Covid-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities” (March 21, 2020).
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