Calif. Dept. of Education Rules in Favor of Students with Disabilities

On January 19, 2021, the California Department of Education (CDE) ruled in favor of students with disabilities, declaring that the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) has failed to conduct special education assessments since distance learning began amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Equal Justice Society is working with Disability Rights California, the National Center for Youth Law and Western Center on Law & Poverty to educate parents and the community on this important decision.

Special education assessments are formal evaluations of a student’s disability or suspected disability. Under federal and state law, school districts must conduct special education assessments to determine if a student qualifies for special education. Once a student qualifies for special education, school districts must conduct special education re-assessments every three years. Special education assessments tell the student’s IEP team about a child’s needs and are critical to providing students with disabilities the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to which they are legally entitled. 

The CDE ruled SCUSD violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The CDE ordered SCUSD to develop a plan by February 2, 2021 to conduct all outstanding special education assessments from March to November 20, 2020. The CDE also ordered SCUSD to complete all of these outstanding assessments by July 30, 2021.

At the start of the pandemic, the CDE and the U.S. Department of Education made it clear that the IDEA remained in effect. Both agencies emphasized that school districts must continue to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education to students with disabilities and implement students’ IEPs consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students and service providers.

“Children with disabilities rely on special education assessments to identify special education services and supports. Without these assessments, these children cannot receive an appropriate education. The law still requires school districts across California, including SCUSD, to conduct special education assessments, even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Lauren Lystrup, attorney at Disability Rights California.

On November 20, 2020, DRC filed a state compliance complaint on behalf of a 10-year-old student with a disability, and all similarly situated students, alleging that SCUSD had not conducted special education assessments since March 2020. As of October 9, 2020, SCUSD had not conducted 325 initial assessments and over 1,000 triennial assessments. “The District has delayed K.B.’s assessment for far too long,” said A.E., K.B.’s education rights holder. “I am grateful that the state enforced K.B’s special education rights and the rights of other students with disabilities in the District during these difficult times.”

Upcoming Event

On February 25, 2021 from 6:00-7:30 p.m. DRC, Equal Justice Society, National Center for Youth Law, and Western Center on Law and Poverty are co-hosting an information session regarding Sacramento City Unified School District’s obligation to conduct special education assessments of students during COVID-19. This information session will include a discussion about the January 19, 2021 CDE decision, including the corrective actions CDE ordered against SCUSD, and advocacy tips for families. This information session is open to the public. Register online here.

Please send accommodation requests to Alyssa Hopper at Alyssa.Hopper@disabilityrightsca.org by February 17, 2021.