Department of Education says Virginia School District’s COVID closures are hurting disabled students

The COVID shutdown of a Virginia school district discriminated against students with disabilities, the Department of Education said Wednesday.

According to the department’s Office of Civil Rights, Fairfax County Public Schools have suspended essential services for their 25,000 disabled students and told teachers they do not have to meet educational standards while the schools are closed. The district directed teachers to let through students who did not complete their work or did not attend classes during the year-long closure that began in March 2020.

Fairfax County was one of many school districts in liberal counties to keep classrooms closed for over a year, despite evidence showing it was safe to resume in-person classes. A school board member dismissed a coalition of parents pushing for classrooms to open as a Republican “dark money” operation. The Department of Education reported this year that school closures were causing students’ math and reading scores to plummet.

The Department of Education began its investigation in January 2021 after parents filed complaints alleging that Fairfax County public schools have denied disabled students an adequate education in violation of federal civil rights law. Among other things, the investigation found that the district reduced class hours and services such as speech therapy. The district also shortened the length of classes, with some classes meeting for only a few hours each month.

The Department of Education concluded that Fairfax County Public Schools are yet to offer remedial action to students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. Fairfax County agreed to review its education plans for students with disabilities and to notify parents if their child is eligible for a “compensatory education plan” to address learning losses. The district is required to submit regular reports to the Civil Rights Office of the Department of Education documenting efforts.

A study conducted by the district in November 2020 found a 19 percent increase in students with disabilities who failed two or more grades in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year — double the year-earlier rate.

Maureen Barlow, a mother of a disabled Fairfax student, told the Washington Free Beacon that her son entered the second grade at kindergarten reading level. Barlow said she had to hire a tutor when the school restricted subject teaching.

“I can’t supervise three kids and work and help my kid who has a reading disability,” Barlow said. “I’m a single mom, and it was all on me.”

An administrator interviewed by the Department of Education said Fairfax made a “good faith effort” given the circumstances to educate students with disabilities. Superintendent Michelle Reid echoed that assessment in a statement Wednesday, saying, “FCPS has and will continue to leverage resources to ensure students with the greatest need receive prioritized support for improved outcomes.”

But the department discovered that administrators trained faculty to decline responsibility when parents questioned them about learning disabilities. “We didn’t fail. Schools have been closed,” an administrator told teachers during a webinar. “It wasn’t like that [Fairfax County Public Schools] did it on purpose by closing its schools.”

Barlow said county administrators and school board members were more outspoken with her, saying her child was not legally owed the same quality education after the COVID hit.

Fairfax County was one of seven counties that sued Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R.) in February to have students remain masked at school. School administrators have used COVID tools to give students more virtual learning, frustrating parents who believe schools are already not doing enough to address the failures of distance learning.

Parents have also expressed frustration that the Fairfax County School Board is increasingly prioritizing a liberal political agenda, including changes to its handbooks, teacher training and curriculum that promote radical gender ideology.


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