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Ed. Department: Online Schools Must Follow Special Education Rules

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By Christina Samuels. This story originally appeared on the On Special Education blog. 

Virtual and online schools that are operated by states and districts fall under the same mandates as brick-and-mortar schools when it comes to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, says new guidance from the U.S Department of Education. 

The "Dear Colleague Letter" issued Aug. 11 offers several points that states and districts must adhere to for their virtual schools. Among them:

  • States are responsible for ensuring that virtual schools implement the requirements of IDEA;
  • States have to make sure that virtual school students with disabilities are included in state testing and are offered appropriate accommodations or alternate assessments when necessary;
  • States and districts are responsible for identifying and evaluating virtual school students, a process known under the IDEA as "child find";
  • The rights and protections to students and their families under the IDEA "must not be diminished or compromised" if those students attend virtual schools. 

The department also said at the conclusion of its letter that more specific guidance related to students in virtual schools is coming. In the meantime, it referred to the federally-funded Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities as a source for more information. 

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