Newsroom Article

Coronavirus and Schools: Inclusion and Class Movement Restrictions


Posted on in Press Releases and Announcements

The statements below are from the interim CDC guidelines for school re-openings. They seem to prohibit the practice of inclusion of students with significant disabilities in certain classes like homeroom and specials/electives. Likewise, it could be difficult with elementary pull-out models for reading/math instruction. Your thoughts?

  • Ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff (all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children).

  • Restrict mixing between groups.

Under the IDEA—where the term “inclusion” does not appear—every student with a disability is receiving special education on a “pull out” basis. The LRE provisions of the law require that we assume every child belongs in the regular classroom, and that he or she is pulled away from that setting only when, and only to the extent that, a compelling need requires instruction elsewhere. That need must be so compelling that it cannot be met in the regular classroom even with “supplementary aids and services.” Consider this legal reality in reviewing the CDC “guidance” from which you quote above. 

First, recognize that “guidance” documents issued by administrative agencies are purely advisory. They do not have the force of law and cannot override law.

Second, note that the “guidance”—like most guidance—allows for considerable play in the joints. Thus, student and staff groupings must remain “as static as possible,” and we are advised to “restrict mixing between groups”—not prohibited from mixing altogether. 

We suggest that the IDEA removes from the “possible” any staffing and classroom assignment pattern that denies to a child with a disability the direct, explicit, goal-driven instruction his or her IEP team has concluded is so compelling that it must be delivered outside the regular classroom. Other actions might be more possible, because they do not directly violate the law. For example, special education certification in Pennsylvania is no longer subject-specific, so a child with a disability who was pulled to one special education teacher for reading and another for math might now be pulled to a single teacher for both reading and math, even if that staffing pattern is less than optimal. Related services caseloads might need to be re-configured to allow for caseload concentration in single buildings, or at least to minimize movement between buildings, even if that means caseloads are not equitably divided among providers for the time being.

Violating a law to satisfy a guideline—however serious the purpose of that guideline—is not “possible.”