Students with disabilities who attend virtual public schools should get the same quality education they would find in a traditional school, Education Department officials warned.
The agency’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services on Thursday released a Dear Colleague letter addressing the rights of students with disabilities who attend public virtual schools, which are exploding across the country. Many students with impairments choose to enroll because the virtual schools offer the flexibility of learning at home.
But after receiving questions and concerns about the quality of these schools, officials decided to issue guidance. The letter, written to state leaders, explains how to comply with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The department’s letter specifically addresses how IDEA applies to states and public virtual schools.
“Children with disabilities attending virtual schools have the same right to a free appropriate public education as children attending brick and mortar schools,” said OSERS acting assistant secretary, Sue Swenson, in a press release.
There are nearly 6.7 million students with disabilities in the U.S.
The letter also details states’ obligation to provide children with disabilities a free education at public virtual schools. States are also required to provide appropriate accommodations to students as determined by their individualized education program (IEP), and include these children in all state- and district-wide assessments.
According to the letter, states “must have policies and procedures that ensure that children with disabilities who attend virtual schools are included in all general state and district-wide assessment programs.”
The Department of Education wants to ensure that online public and charter schools are subject to the same rigorous standards as traditional brick-and-mortar schools, and highlighted the importance of oversight, transparency and accountability for these schools.
Currently, OSERS is funding the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities to assess how online learning can be more accessible for all students.