The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a joint Dear Colleague letter warning school district special education directors, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) coordinators, and Head Start grant recipients s that delayed evaluations and placement concerns could violate the IDEA.
The letter states that initial special education evaluations are being delayed, and special education services included in individual education plans are not being implemented fully or in a timely manner for children with disabilities in Head Start, especially since the pandemic began.
In addition, the letter states that data collected shows educational placement decisions are not always being made in accordance with the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirement under the IDEA. The letter also emphasizes that young children with disabilities and their families have been disproportionately affected by service disruptions, as well as socioeconomic challenges and that no part of IDEA has been waived. Thus, school districts and their partners must provide special education and related services to eligible preschool-aged children with disabilities.
Further, according to separate but related guidance released alongside the Dear Colleague letter states that “Additionally, families and providers continue to express concern and frustration with delays and inconsistencies in identification and evaluation processes, service delivery in inclusive programs, and transition into different services, as well as the expectations programs have for their child.” Thus, in the guidance document the USDE urges state and local leaders to prioritize creating memorandums of understanding to spell out how they will collaborate on a “seamless and coordinated inclusive system.”