New guidance calls on states to address disparate impact of pandemic

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The US Department of Education has released new guidance on the use of COVID-19 funds that addresses some of the demands in the legal petition filed by the national Fulfill the Promise Special Education coalition.

The coalition filed a legal petition in March asking the Education Department to make clear to school districts that they should direct significant K-12 funding from the American Rescue Plan to help students with disabilities — especially those of color — in recovering from disrupted learning due to the pandemic.

In the new guidance from the Education Department, the administration states clearly that communities of color have borne a disproportionate burden of COVID-19. It calls on states to explain how they plan to use federal funding to address groups disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including students from low-income families, students from racial or ethnic groups, students experiencing homelessness, English learners, and children with disabilities. The guidance also says that states should be responsive to the trauma of COVID-19 and meet the mental health needs of students through SEL (social emotional learning) and access to mental health professionals, among other options, with more intensive support going to students with the most urgent needs.

This guidance is an encouraging initial recognition of the disparate impact the pandemic has had on persistently underfunded communities and a signal to states that they must, at the very least, consider disproportionate impact in their ARP funding plans.

“The revised guidance amounts to the government saying to the Special Education community and other vulnerable communities, ‘We see you. We hear you,” said UTLA Elementary Vice President Gloria Martinez. “For educators and parents of students with disabilities across the country, this is a small step on the long road ahead of us.”

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