2020 Annual Report - Education

2020 Annual Report - Education

2020 Advocacy Victories

Special Education During COVID‑19

During 2020, education throughout California transitioned to distance learning responding to the pandemic. To respond, the California Department of Education (CDE) and U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) made it clear that school districts must continue to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. Also, implement Individualized Education Plans (IEP) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students and service providers. However, throughout the year, many school districts across the state did not provide special education services and support failing disabled students and their families.

These districts failed to conduct needed assessments, ignored families’ requests for in-home assistance, disciplined students who could not comply with the distance learning rules because of their disabilities, denied assistive technology, and discriminated against disabled students in their reopening policies.

Throughout the year, drc responded by providing direct special education advocacy services to hundreds of families of students with disabilities and counseled hundreds more about their rights.

Case Ruled in Favor of Students with Disabilities

One direct advocacy case resulted in favor of students with disabilities when the CDE declared that the Bakersfield City School District (BCSD) failed to implement students’ IEPs to the “greatest extent possible” since distance learning began amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

drc initially filed a complaint on behalf of Leonardo, a 10-year-old student with a disability, and all similarly situated students, alleging that BCSD did not provide their IEP services for nearly five months.

The CDE ruled BCSD violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and ordered the District to make up services missed during distance learning and report monthly on services delivered to students going forward.

“My son’s IEP services are a blessing, and without them he regressed significantly,” said Leonardo’s mother. “I am grateful that the state enforced his special education rights and the rights of other students with disabilities in the district during these difficult times.”

Photo of a young boy working on his laptop. He is in a online class.

Looking Forward

drc is currently in the process of filing a complaint against Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) for its district-wide failures in providing a free and appropriate public education to roughly 3000 students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As schools in California began to re-open for in-person learning, a group of families from IUSD approached drc. The families represented a diverse set of disabilities and ages, yet they shared the same problems. IUSD required them to resolve any COVID-19 related compensatory education issues through alternative dispute resolution and requiring a waiver. Students were not being assessed for special education, assessments were late, and the families had not received any information on learning loss.

After a town hall, interviews, and further investigation, drc agreed to file a systemic compliance complaint on behalf of all students with disabilities at IUSD. We hope that the California Department of Education will issue corrective actions and use this investigation to issue guidance for school districts on addressing compensatory education issues related to COVID-19.


Looking forward, drc will continue to advocate for students with disabilities. We want school districts across California to understand that the law still requires them to provide a free and appropriate public education to special education students even during this time of continued uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic and as schools begin to re-open for in-person learning.