U.S. Department of Education: Fairfax County Schools Failed Students with Disabilities

U.S. Department of Education | November 30, 2022

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today announced a resolution agreement with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia requiring it to take steps necessary to ensure that students with disabilities receive educational services, including compensatory services, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

OCR investigated the school division’s provision during the pandemic of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities, as required by federal civil rights law.  OCR’s investigation found that the school division failed to provide thousands of students with services identified in the students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans during remote learning.  For example, OCR found that the school division: 

  • Reduced and placed limits on services and special education instruction provided to students with disabilities based on considerations other than the students’ individual educational needs.
  • Inaccurately informed staff that the school division was not required to provide compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive a FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic because the school division was not at fault. 
  • Failed to develop and implement a plan adequate to remedy the instances in which students with disabilities were not provided a FAPE during remote learning.  

In addition, the evidence OCR gathered during investigation raised concerns that the school division did not accurately track services provided to students with disabilities.

The school division agreed to resolve these violations and compliance concerns by creating and implementing a comprehensive plan to address the compensatory education needs of students with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am relieved that the more than 25,000 students with disabilities in Fairfax County will now receive services federal law promises to them, even during a pandemic, to ensure their equal access to education,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon.

Through implementation of the resolution agreement the school division will:  

  • Develop and implement a plan to appropriately assess and provide compensatory education to students with disabilities who did not receive a FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Designate a plan administrator who will oversee the creation and implementation of the plan. 
  • Convene IEP and Section 504 teams to determine whether students were not provided the regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet their individual needs during remote learning and determine compensatory education. 
  • Track and report to OCR the implementation of the plan for compensatory education. 
  • Provide written guidance and/or training about the plan to all division staff with responsibilities under Section 504 and Title II. And, 
  • Conduct outreach to parents, guardians, students, and other stakeholders to publicize the plan for compensatory education.  

The Department has released a wide variety of resources addressing schools’ responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive appropriate educational services during the pandemic. Those include:

The letter to Fairfax County Public Schools is available here and the resolution agreement is available here. In addition, OCR has developed a fact sheet addressing the provision of FAPE during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for compensatory services under Section 504. This fact sheet can be found here.

The U.S. Department of education was formed in 1980. The federal department now has a $68 billion annual budget with 4,400 employees.