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Education Department Says Virginia School District’s COVID Closures Hurt Disabled Students

A Virginia school district’s COVID closure discriminated against disabled students, the Department of Education announced Wednesday.

According to the department’s Office for Civil Rights, Fairfax County Public Schools cut essential services for its 25,000 disabled students and told teachers they did not have to meet educational standards while schools were closed. The district instructed teachers to pass students who had not completed work or participated in class throughout the yearlong closure that began in March 2020.

Fairfax County was one of many school districts in liberal counties that kept classrooms closed for over a year, even as evidence showed it was safe to resume in-person instruction. One school board member dismissed a parent coalition that pushed to open classrooms as a Republican “dark money” operation. The Department of Education reported this year that school closures caused students’ math and reading scores to plummet.

The Education Department launched its investigation in January 2021, after parents filed complaints alleging Fairfax County Public Schools denied disabled students an adequate education in violation of federal civil rights law. Among other findings, the investigation revealed the district slashed instructional hours and services like speech therapy. The district also slashed class length, with some classes meeting for just a few hours each month.

The Education Department concluded that Fairfax County Public Schools have yet to provide remedial services to students who fell behind during the pandemic. Fairfax County agreed to review its educational plans for disabled students and notify parents if their child qualifies for a “compensatory education” plan to address learning loss. The county must submit periodic reports to the Education Department’s civil rights office documenting the effort.

A November 2020 study conducted by the district found a 19 percent increase of students with disabilities who failed two or more classes in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year—twice that of the previous year.

Maureen Barlow, a mother of a disabled Fairfax student, told the Washington Free Beacon that her son entered second grade at a kindergarten reading level. Barlow said she had to hire a private tutor when the school cut back on specialized instruction.

“I can’t monitor three children, and work, and help my child who has a reading delay,” Barlow said. “I’m a single mom, and it was all on me.”

An administrator interviewed by the Education Department said Fairfax made “a good faith effort” to educate students with disabilities in light

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