FCPS reaches resolution with DOE after violating rights of students with disabilities

Fairfax County Public Schools failed to provide thousands of students with disabilities adequate services during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights announced Wednesday a resolution agreement with the school district requiring it to take steps necessary to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate educational services outlined in the students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans.

As required by federal civil law, OCR investigated FCPS' provision during the pandemic of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. 

The review found FCPS placed limits on services and special education instruction provided to students with disabilities based on considerations other than the students’ individual educational needs. The school district also inaccurately informed staff that they were not required to provide compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive a FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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FCPS also failed to develop and implement a plan to address the instances in which students with disabilities were not provided a FAPE during remote learning. 

The evidence OCR gathered during the investigation raised concerns that the school division did not accurately track services provided to students with disabilities.

The Education Department said FCPS has agreed to fix the aforementioned violations and compliance concerns by creating and implementing a comprehensive plan to address the compensatory education needs of students with disabilities due to the pandemic.

"I am relieved that the more than 25,000 students with disabilities in Fairfax County will now receive services federal law promises to them, even during a pandemic, to ensure their equal access to education," said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

The school district will now have to come up with a plan to assess and provide compensatory education to student with disabilities who did not receive a FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, FCPS must designate a plan administrator who will oversee the creation and implementation of the plan and report to OCR the implementation of the plan, among other guidelines. 

The Department has released a wide variety of resources addressing schools’ responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive appropriate educational services during the pandemic. 

The letter to Fairfax County Public Schools is available here and the resolution agreement is available here. In addition, OCR has developed a fact sheet addressing the provision of FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for compensatory services under Section 504. This fact sheet can be found here.