California Agrees to End Discrimination against Disabled Students and Provide Equal Access to Virtual Learning

New settlement in distance learning lawsuit.
Press Release

California Agrees to End Discrimination against Disabled Students and Provide Equal Access to Virtual Learning

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(Sacramento, CA) – As part of a legal settlement with disability advocates, the Governor’s office has agreed to support new legislative amendments to ensure that special education students have equal access to their education through virtual learning. Last year, many students were denied virtual instruction through Independent Study, solely because of their disabilities. If approved by the Legislature, the new protections will go into effect for the 2022-23 school year, ensuring that special education students can qualify for virtual instruction in the future if new COVID-19 variants emerge.

The settlement is the result of a civil rights lawsuit filed last year by three special education students, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) and The Arc of California. The families and organizations are represented by Disability Rights California (DRC), the law firm of Vanaman German LLP, and DREDF.

“When California limited access to virtual instruction last year, scores of disabled students were left with no safe access to their education, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The federal court recognized this when it issued an emergency order last winter, restoring distance learning for these students.” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel for DRC, who argued the case in court.

Claudia Center, Legal Director for DREDF said, “By amending the discriminatory statute, the settlement will eliminate barriers to virtual independent study for disabled students. This is critical as students with disabilities are more likely to need virtual options to avoid severe outcomes from COVID-19."

“Students who receive highly specialized instruction through California’s non-public schools were completely denied the ability to access their programs virtually by the law we challenged. This settlement reverses that discriminatory and broadly harmful aspect of the law,” said David German, partner with the law firm of Vanaman German LLP.


In July of 2021, the California Legislature passed a law, Assembly Bill (AB) 130, that made Independent Study the only way for students to attend school virtually for the 2021-22 school year. Under the new provisions, parents could enroll their children in Independent Study if in-person classes put their health at risk. But the design of Independent Study left out many special education students, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome. Many were denied because they need adult assistance to learn and cannot work on their own. Others were denied because they attended non-public schools, or because they studied on an alternative curriculum.

As a result, parents of many special education students kept their children home to protect their safety, facing truancy notices and the loss of public benefits. Many disabled students were out of school for months as a result.

Dr. Alice Kuo, Chief of Pediatrics at UCLA Medical Center, was an expert for the Plaintiffs. She explained that because students with disabilities are at far greater risk from COVID-19, “Parents are justified in taking strong steps to protect their children, including requesting virtual instruction.”

On November 4, 2021, a federal judge issued an emergency order that the State of California continue distance learning for an initial group of 15 students and provide access to virtual distance learning to disabled students who were at heightened risk from COVID-19 and could not safely attend in person. These students were denied Independent Study because of their disabilities, although it was their only option for virtual instruction. On February 28, 2022, the judge expanded her earlier order by issuing a statewide preliminary injunction against the implementation of the discriminatory aspects of the Independent Study statute, leading to the discussions that resulted in the settlement announced today.

For more information on the case including full settlement, Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), and Preliminary Injunction (PI), read more here: E.E. v. State of California


Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California
(916) 504-5938

Lawrence Carter-Long
Communications Director
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
(510) 644-2555 x. 5256


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. For more information visit:

Vanaman German LLP is a private law firm whose practice focuses exclusively on fighting for the educational rights of students with disabilities.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national, nonprofit law and policy center led by people with disabilities and dedicated to advancing and protecting the civil and human rights of disabled people. As a Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) funded by the US Department of Education, DREDF serves families of children with disabilities and disabled young adults in 33 California counties.

The Arc of California promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.