Virtual schools – and the states that oversee them – are responsible for ensuring students with disabilities are receiving an appropriate education and the services they need, according to a “Dear Colleague” letter issued earlier this week by the US Department of Education.
The letter highlights the responsibility of states to ensure that virtual schools – like traditional school districts – are providing appropriate services to students with disabilities. And states, the department says, also have a responsibility to seek out and evaluate virtual school students who may have a disability.
States must also ensure that students with disabilities are included in each state’s standardized testing program with needed accommodations, the letter states. And virtual schools are responsible for employing teachers and support staff serving students with disabilities who are properly trained and have the skills to serve them.
Among the letter’s key points:
- The educational rights and protections afforded to children with disabilities and their parents under IDEA must not be diminished or compromised when children with disabilities attend virtual schools.
- States are responsible for ensuring that all school districts, including virtual schools that operate as school districts, implement the requirements of IDEA.
- To ensure FAPE to children with disabilities in virtual schools, each school district must implement the evaluation, eligibility, individualized education program (IEP) and least restrictive environment requirements under IDEA.
- Each state also 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, including assessments with appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments, where necessary and as indicated in their respective IEPs.
- In addition, each state and school district, must have child find policies and procedures in effect to ensure that all children with disabilities residing in the state, including those who attend virtual schools, who are in need of special education and related services, regardless of the severity of their disability, are identified, located, and evaluated.
- School districts, including virtual schools that operate as school districts, should review the state’s child find policies and procedures as well as their own implementing policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that children with disabilities who attend virtual schools are identified, located, and evaluated.