Perhaps revealing enforcement priorities, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Head Start (OHS) recently issued a joint letter reminding state educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and Head Start programs of their requirements to serve preschool-aged children under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

The letter asserts that “young children and their families have been disproportionately affected by service disruptions.” While acknowledging that the pandemic continues to present challenges to implementing appropriate programs and services to young children, “children with disabilities retain their rights under IDEA to receive appropriate special education and related services in accordance with their individualized education programs (IEP).” The letter stressed, “No IDEA requirements have been waived.”

The letter concludes that data shows:
• initial evaluations have been delayed and not provided in a timely fashion;
• special education and related services included in IEPs are not being provided timely or IEPs are not being fully implemented; and
• placement decisions are not being made in accordance with IDEA’s least restrictive environment requirements.

The letter goes on to urge collaboration between SEAs, LEAs, and Head Start programs and provides links to resources to help meet the requirements of IDEA.

As a result of the correspondence, one can conclude that challenges resulting from pandemic disruptions will not serve as a “get out of jail free” card. Both the US Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services have put LRAs and Head Start programs on notice of their expectations.

Feel free to reach out to any of your partners at Ennis Britton to discuss special education compliance issues for preschool-aged children.

A copy of the letter can be found here