Office of Civil Rights Resolution (4/28/2022) Regarding a Denial of FAPE Because of Covid-related School Closure

On April 28, 2022, OCR (U.S. Department of Education, 2022) issued its findings and an agreement with the second largest school district in the U.S., the Los Angeles Unified School District (hereinafter LA Unified). The Office of Civil Rights investigated LA Unified to determine whether the district failed to provide a FAPE to students with disabilities under the IDEA and Section 504. Specifically, OCR investigated whether services were provided in conformity with students’ IEP and 504 plans during school closure when LA Unified provided remote learning. On the basis of the investigation, officials at OCR found that LA Unified failed to provide a FAPE to eligible students with disabilities during remote learning in violation of Section 504. The district did this by (a) limiting the services that were provided to qualified students with disabilities based on considerations other than their individual needs, (b) failing to evaluate students prior to making significant changes in placement, (c) not having a group of knowledgeable persons making the placement decisions, (d) not accurately or sufficiently tracking the services that were provided to students with disabilities, and (e) failing to develop and implement plans to adequately remedy instances in which FAPE was not provided to eligible students with disabilities.

            Officials at OCR concluded that because of these violations, LA unified had to take remedial actions to overcome the instances of discrimination. Moreover, OCR required that compensatory services were required to remedy the educational and other deficits stemming from the school district’s actions that did not receive the evaluations or services because of the actions of the school district during the covid-19 pandemic. The school district initiated a program in which a student’s IEP teams would conduct a three-part analysis of the effects of the Covid-19 school closures on the students.  First, the team would evaluate a student’s progress toward meeting his or her goals to determine if the student made progress or if there was evidence of learning loss. Second, the team would examine the services provided before, during, and after the school closure. Third, the team would analyze the student’s progress vis a vis the progress that would be expected given the student’s history. After considering these three steps, the team would determine if the student had made sufficient progress toward the goals or has regressed, and the student demonstrates a need for additional services, the team must develop a plan for developing and implementing recoupment services. The district defined recoupment services as being “reasonably calculated to provide the educational benefits that likely would have been accrued from special education services had the school facilities remained open” (U.S. Department of Education, 2022, p. 12). If the team determined that recoupment services would be provided, LA Unified had to track and monitor the provision of these services. This OCR ruling provides a way that school districts may address the possible failure of school districts to address learning losses stemming from school closures during the Covid-19 school closures.

The letter from OCR to the Superintendent of LA Unified School District, Alberto M. Carvalho, is available at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/investigations/more/09215901-a.pdf

The resolution agreement between OCR and LA Unified is available at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/investigations/more/09215901-b.pdf

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