PAUSD to work on providing special needs services amid closure

Ethan Hwang, Managing Editor

Despite the challenges that school closure presents for special education, the Palo Alto Unified School District will resume accommodation and support for some students with special needs in the coming weeks, according to Supt. Don Austin.

The district currently serves 1,205 students on Individual Education Programs, many of whom require highly specialized services, Austin said Thursday in an interview with The Paly Voice. 

The district is currently planning for the worst-case scenario, which is that schools do not reopen this semester, according to Austin. Part of that plan is to begin providing services as soon as possible.

Educators will start by providing special services to students whose needs are easiest to address, then move onto the cases which are most challenging, according to Austin.

Some services, such as those provided for students who are medically fragile or have physical therapeutic needs, will be more difficult or nearly impossible to address, Austin said.

Given the district’s recent efforts in identifying and accommodating students with dyslexia, another major focus while schools remain closed is on creating materials for students who have difficulties reading. Austin said that he hopes the new credit/no-credit grading policy will help ensure that these students do not fall behind their peers.

According to guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Education on March 12, relevant anti-discrimination laws for special education — including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 and Title II of the American Disabilities Act — do not address extended school closures, such as in the case of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“While we are essentially free to not honor IEPs right now, I think that’s an awful mindset to have,” Austin said. “The students who needed us the most three weeks ago need us even more now, not less. So we’re trying to balance that to the best of our ability.”