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NDRN Applauds Guidance on Virtual Schools and Students with Disabilities

For Immediate Release             

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122                    

WASHINGTON – The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is pleased to see the U.S. Department of Education’s August 11 release of an important and much needed “Dear Colleague” letter that will have a significant impact on children with disabilities and their families. The letter clarifies the obligation to ensure that students with disabilities attending public virtual schools receive all of the protections that they are entitled to under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  NDRN applauds the Department for the release of this critical “Dear Colleague” letter.

As the Nation’s largest provider of legal representation to students with disabilities (nearly 12,000 individual cases in 2014), the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies regularly report problems that students with disabilities face when participating in virtual programs of different types.

The “Dear Colleague” contains a number of key points:

  • The IDEA applies to all public virtual schools, regardless of structure
  • The State Education Department is ultimately responsible for ensuring compliance with the IDEA, as well as participation in State and district-wide assessments under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and establishing and maintaining qualifications for personnel, including training and content knowledge
  • Virtual schools are responsible for identifying students that have not been identified as a student with a disability but may need to be evaluated to determine eligibility—what is called “child find”
  • Virtual schools are responsible for providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to their students
  • The IDEA requirements for providing services in the least restrictive environment (LRE) also apply


NDRN is grateful to the U. S. Department of Education for the release of this “Dear Colleague” letter on virtual schools and we believe it will go far in improving the education of students with disabilities attending these schools. However, we continue to remain hopeful to see additional needed guidance on other topics, particularly on restraint and seclusion, from the Department of Education.

A copy of the letter can be accessed here.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.

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