For students with disabilities, school is often where they have access to physical, speech, mental-health and other therapies. As schools around the nation are closing, disabled students and their families are being left without supports.
Parents and advocates are telling us that kids with disabilities are feeling anxious, not only because they’ve lost the routine of school and the support of teachers and staff, but also because they’re losing skills that they worked hard to attain. For instance, motor skills they gained in physical therapy, or mental-health coping mechanisms taught in counseling.
None of us know how long our schools will remain closed. But the longer it takes for schools to reopen, the more crucial it is that we ensure all kids have access to services.
What we know for certain is that families with access to resources will have more options in navigating this crisis, and low-income and immigrant families face greater barriers to ensuring their children continue to receive the services they need. We can’t let school closures exacerbate inequalities even further.
In the face of this pandemic, it’s alarming that as part of the stimulus, Congress has been considering allowing the U.S. Department of Education to temporarily waive schools’ obligations to students with disabilities. Nationally, 14% of students receive special-education services. Leaving these children behind would be morally indefensible and have tragic consequences for the integration of people with disabilities into our communities.
Since schools in our area have closed, Disability Rights Washington has heard from numerous families concerned about how this will impact their children with disabilities. Many worry that without services and therapies, their children won’t “progress” as outlined in their IEPs (Individual Education Programs) and therefore will be placed into segregated special-education classrooms where they don’t have access to the same quality of academic instruction.
In a letter sent to The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Disability Rights Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and Northwest Justice Project have requested that since office- or clinic-based appointments are not feasible, schools could be coordinating remote therapy sessions or telehealth appointments. We also are asking that schools coordinate with Washington State’s Health Care Authority (HCA) to ensure that students eligible for school-based services through Medicaid continue to receive those services outside of school. OSPI issued a memo stating “education must continue during closure.” We want to make sure that education is accessible to students with disabilities, too.
As a parent of a kid with disabilities, you may feel powerless in this moment, but there are things you can do for your kid. First, let Disability Rights Washington know about your family’s situation. We’ve set up remotely from our homes, and you can request an appointment to speak with our team.
Next, listen to Rooted in Rights’ Parenting Without Pity podcast, where we talk to parents with disabilities about their own childhoods, what they wish their parents would have known, and what their advice would be for parents raising disabled children. Use this time to think deeply — what does it mean to challenge your emotional reaction to your kid’s disability? When you talk about your child “regressing,” what does that mean?
This is a particularly fraught moment for people with disabilities as we face serious health risks from COVID-19 and a health care system that is preparing to ration care in ways that could discriminate against us. As a parent, and in particular, as a parent of a kid with disabilities, now is an excellent moment to learn more about what it means — and has meant — to be disabled in our country.
Parents hungry for home schooling resources, can visit our One Out of Five Disability History and Pride collaboration with the Office for Education Ombuds. One out of five people in the U.S. has a disability. Help your kid — whether they have disabilities or not — learn with this interactive curriculum which includes video profiles of students with disabilities from around Washington state.
And most important, remember that the disability community is not disposable. Whether it’s about access to health care for our seniors or therapeutic services for our youth, even in moments of profound crisis, the lives of people with disabilities should not, must not, be valued less.