During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools nationwide failed to provide essential supports and services to students with disabilities. Based on reviews of 115 school-district reopening plans, this Note finds that numerous schools sought to remedy these gaps through in-person priority policies designed to return students with disabilities to physical classrooms before other students. This Note evaluates the legal and policy implications of such in-person priority policies through the lenses of critical race theory and dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit).
This Note begins by identifying the structural barriers to learning that students with disabilities faced during school closures, including disparities in internet access and accessibility, removal or reduction of related services, absence of social interaction and structure, and heightened trauma and mental health concerns. While in-person priority policies are meant to mitigate these barriers, this Note argues that they ultimately segregate classrooms and exacerbate already egregious disciplinary disparities. Consequently, these policies impose disproportionate harm on students of color with disabilities.
Additionally, this Note calls on policymakers to develop individualized approaches to in-person priority, adopt nonexclusionary disciplinary policies, and expand access to compensatory education and extended school year services. Beyond the current crisis, policymakers must commit to eliminating systems of stratification that categorically filter students into segregated classroom settings. By centering students of color, schools can reimagine special education to ensure that all students receive the education they deserve.
* J.D. Candidate, Stanford Law School, 2022; M.A. in Education Candidate, Stanford Graduate School of Education, 2022. I am deeply grateful for the insightful advising and feedback of many Stanford faculty, including Subini Ancy Annamma, Rabia Belt, Tara Ford, and William S. Koski. I am also indebted to Miriam A. Rollin, director of the Education Civil Rights Alliance at the National Center for Youth Law, for her guidance. And I extend my heartfelt thanks to the late Deborah L. Rhode for encouraging me to be a scholar and a leader. Finally, a special thank you to Sarah DeYoung, Daniel Khalessi, and the entire editorial staff at the Stanford Law Review for their tireless editing.