Top Ten Things School Leaders Need to Know About Special Education in 2021

The Spring Webinar Series on Special Education Law kicked off with an enormous turnout for our first webinar.  Jim Walsh and Paula Maddox Roalson discussed Top Ten Things School Leaders Need to Know About Special Education in 2021.


Here are some Big Ideas to whet your appetite….

  1. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. Nationally, a third of students haven’t set foot inside a classroom in almost a full year, my eight-year-old son included.  Academic expectations have evolved into mitigating learning loss as much as possible until all kids can go back into the classroom.  Nothing like this has ever happened, and school is practically unrecognizable today.  But you know what hasn’t changed?  The Law.
  2. The Biden administration appears to have two clear priorities for education thus far: equity and higher education. Our new Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has referred to public education as a “flor pálida”—a wilted and neglected flower.  And we are the master gardeners.
  3. The Texas Legislature is in action. Many bills related to education have been filed.  There is lots at stake, so stay engaged and make your voice heard.
  4. The United States Supreme Court will hear the case B.L. v. Mahanoy Area School District 2020 WL 3526130. A decision is not expected before next summer, but you can expect that decision to inform the standards for student speech when a student is not on campus or at a school-sponsored activity.  This can have an enormous impact for student speech on social media.
  5. What will COVID-Relief look like? Several key take-aways were provided regarding compensatory services for special education students to address the after-effects of remote instruction.  One takeaway is: No two students are alike.  Therefore, compensatory services awarded will be just as varied and unique.  The third webinar in this series will deep dive into compensatory services on February 17th with The New Normal: COVID-19 Response Services.
  6. Child Find is still paramount. Don’t over-rely on RtI or 504 services in lieu of a special education referral and FIE.  The standard here is from Spring Branch v. O.W. 2020 WL 3118754.
  7. FAPE is still paramount, too. Once you find the child, you must serve the child with a reasonably calculated IEP to enable that child to make appropriate progress, global pandemic or not.
  8. Parents can sue for intentional discrimination against a child receiving 504 services and receive monetary damages. This all goes back to equity.  You must carefully monitor your programs, practices, and policies to ensure equity for all students, including students with disabilities.
  9. A school district can be liable if an employee discriminates against a student receiving 504 services on the basis of a disability. This applies to extra-curricular activities and personnel as well.
  10. More and more cases regarding restraint are being brought to the courts. Teams need to be trained to implement a campus’ restraint program with fidelity, especially as more students begin coming back to campus after long periods of remote instruction.

Though I’ve covered the gist of the list, keep in mind that Jim and Paula go much deeper than this mere scratching of the surface.  Register for The Spring Webinar Series on Special Education Law to join the discussion and get all of the information that our expert attorneys provide.

Our next live webinar is on February 3rd.  Jim Walsh and Jessica Witte will host A Conversation About Pending and Recent COVID-Related Court CasesRegister here to join us if you haven’t already.  We experienced record turnout for Jim and Paula at our first webinar, so we might sell out this year.  Don’t wait!

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