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By: Lily Crespo Esq.
August 3, 2020
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 last week. As schools in Montana tackle reopening guidelines, we decided to provide school leaders with a quick refresher on best practices when designing distance learning programs compliant with the ADA and Section 504.
Online learning needs to be accessible to all students. We recommend districts consider the following:
Background: The ADA guarantees equal protection for people with a wide range of disabilities, from mental health issues to physical challenges. It was modeled after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, providing equal access to government services, schools, buildings, private employers and commercial facilities.
Title II of the ADA and Section 504 require educational agencies to provide students with disabilities equal access to educational benefits. That includes benefits afforded by technology, such as e-books, electronic book readers, screen-reader software, and online instructional material. Title II also requires educational agencies to ensure that their public websites are accessible, not just to students, but also to staff members, parents, and visitors.
What legal responsibilities do schools have to provide accessible learning for students with disabilities?
In a fact sheet issued on March 21, 2020, OSERS and OCR explained that the IDEA and Section 504 should not impede the use of virtual or online education during school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“School districts must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or telephonically,” the agencies emphasized.
OCR and OSERS noted that when it is not feasible to provide IEP services safely in person during a school closure, online options or other modifications may be available.
“These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing,” the agencies wrote.
OSERS and OCR further noted that when educational materials are not available in an accessible format, educators can provide “equally effective alternate access” to the curriculum. For example, the agencies explained that an educator might read a document to a student with a visual impairment over the phone.
Strategies to ensure continuity of learning
The unprecedented challenges posed by Covid-19 to schools in Montana can be overcome and dealt with one by one. KLO is here reading and parsing through as much guidance as we can to help you through this transition. Remember self-care and do the next right thing. As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.