House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and ranking members of several House Committees called on their Democratic counterparts for an immediate, bipartisan investigation into the impacts that school closures have on children with disabilities and urged for getting children back to school full-time and in-person.
“Unfortunately, students with disabilities are falling behind. States and localities are not meeting even the minimal requirements,” Scalise said in a letter (pdf) to House Democratic leaders on Monday. “We are hearing from parents across the U.S. whose children with disabilities are bearing the greatest burden as schools remain closed.”
Scalise indicated that state and local schools haven’t followed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide students with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.”
“While distance learning is acceptable under IDEA, state-wide or district-wide policies that reduce or limit services specifically for students with disabilities without reasonable modifications or services are not,” Scalise added.
Scalise included several examples in his letter. One is a mother of three in Oregon, whose daughter Lizzie has Down syndrome.
“Lizzie’s frustrations maxed out quickly. By the third week, she threw the Chromebook away without us knowing and asked for ‘far away school with her friends,’ as she called in-person learning,” Lizzie’s mother recalled.
After relentless efforts from her parents, Lizzie was the first in their district to return to some “limited in-person” learning.
“But it was (and is) ‘limited.’ No friends. No teachers. No therapies,” Lizzie’s mother continued.
Now they have to hold Lizzie back in the third grade and pay $3,000 a month to hire a behavior specialist to rebuild the lost routines and tutors because the school refused to help.
“These are not unique. This is happening around the country,” Scalise suggested.
According to the Department of Education (pdf), there are more than seven million students with disabilities in the United States—about 14 percent of national public school enrollment.
“Many special needs children benefit from consistent and attentive, in-person instruction. Many special needs children also receive afternoon in-school therapy sessions,” Scalise said.
“The lack of access to these services raises serious concerns about the impact on their mental health. These children would also benefit from seeing their friends in school and from recreation. As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance, the absence of in-person education options may disadvantage students with disabilities.”
There was a 66 percent increase in mental health-related emergency room visits among school-age children in 2020 compared to the same period before the pandemic. A CDC report found out last year.
Scalise and other GOP leaders also expressed disappointment that the Biden Administration is not “more forcefully recommending” schools fully open when science is clear.
The letter quoted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, saying in January, “I would back the CDC recommendations … it’s less likely for a child to get infected in the school setting than if they were just in the community.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, also said last month that “[t]here is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated.”
“Unfortunately, both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky have walked back these positions, likely due to political pressure,” the letter continued. “And the CDC’s updated guidance may lead to more closures.”
“The science is clear—it is safe to reopen schools. Getting all children back to full-time, in-person instruction, especially those with special needs and disabilities, must be a bipartisan priority,” the letter added. “We must open an immediate, bipartisan investigation to ensure students’ needs are met, and federal law is followed.”
House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), House Education and Labor Committee Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), co-signed the letter.