California Department of Education (CDE) Ruled in Favor of Students with Disabilities Who Were Denied Special Education Assessments by the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Release
A black child in a school classroom.

(Sacramento, CA) - On January 19th, 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.

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.

Information Session: Sacramento City Unified School District: An Information Session About the District’s Duty to Complete Special Education Assessments During COVID-19.

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

 

 

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 advance the rights, dignity, equal opportunities, and choices for all people with disabilities. For more information visit: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org.

The National Center for Youth Law is a non-profit law firm that helps low-income children achieve their potential by transforming the public agencies that serve them. For more information, please visit www.youthlaw.org.

Through the lens of economic and racial justice, Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. https://wclp.org/

The Equal Justice Society is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Our legal strategy aims to broaden conceptions of present-day discrimination to include unconscious and structural bias by using social science, structural analysis, and real-life experience. equaljusticesociety.org