State Superintendent Clarifies Face-Covering Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

As noted in the previous article, on September 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights provided guidance on face-covering require­ments for students with disabilities. On October 20, 2020, State Superintendent Michael Rice issued a mem­orandum consistent with OCR’s guidance. School offi­cials should understand the scope of both guidance documents.

Neither OCR’s guidance nor Dr. Rice’s memoran­dum prohibit schools from requesting medical verifica­tion before granting a face-covering exemption for a student who does not have a disability as determined through the IEP or Section 504 process. The guidance documents apply only to students with disabilities.

Dr. Rice’s memorandum reminds school officials that they may not require medical verification before deciding whether to exempt a student with a disability from a face-covering requirement. As we explained in our July 6, 2020 E-Blast, schools must provide accom­modations to students with disabilities when necessary for the student to receive a free appropriate public ed­ucation. IEP and 504 teams are responsible for deter­mining whether a disability-related accommodation is necessary, including a modification of the school’s face-covering requirements.

In determining whether a face-covering exemption is necessary for a student with a disability, school offi­cials may request and consider medical information from parents. Schools may not, however, refuse to con­sider an accommodation request because parents did not provide medical information. Instead, IEP and 504 teams must consider existing information to determine whether the student requires a modification of the face-covering requirement to receive a free appropriate public education. If the IEP or 504 team determines that additional information is necessary before that deter­mination is made, the school must offer to obtain that information (through the evaluation process) at no cost to the parents.

If school officials have notice that a student has or may have a disability and, as a result, requires special education services, supports, or accommodations, the school must refer the student for either a special edu­cation or 504 evaluation to fulfill the school’s child find obligations. Notice that a student who cannot medically tolerate a face covering due to a medical condition may trigger the child find obligation, requiring an evaluation referral.