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Two Agencies Offer Guidance on Bringing Students With Disabilities Back into the Classroom

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many schools across the country to take learning online in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Due to school closures, many students with disabilities have found distance learning particularly difficult. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Education have released new guidance suggesting that schools may reopen safely as long as proper protocol is followed.

According to the CDC, “There is evidence to suggest that K-12 in-person school attendance is not a primary driver of community transmission.” The agencies point to COVID-19 mitigation strategies that center around contact tracing, widespread testing and vaccination of school personnel as soon as supply is available. The guidelines also offer direction on how students with disabilities can resume in-person learning while maintaining a safe environment.

One handbook released by the Department of Education explained that typical guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus may need to be adjusted for students with disabilities when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing. The guidelines highlighted examples such as sighted guides and tactile interpreting for students who are blind or deaf and other modifications for students with intellectual disabilities.

The document also acknowledged that it may be impossible for some students with disabilities to wear a mask, especially those with speech difficulties. The guidelines suggested a safe learning environment can be preserved as long as teachers and staff follow mitigation strategies including masking for those who are able to.

The CDC emphasized that “safe in-person schooling can also offset the negative social, emotional and mental health impacts of prolonged virtual learning.” The guidelines highlighted that “low-resourced communities, English learners and students with disabilities may disproportionately experience learning loss due to limited access to remote learning technology and fewer learning support systems and services outside of schools.”

For more information, you can see the Department of Education’s handbook here and the CDC’s guidance here.

Header image via SeventyFour/Getty Images

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