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California Schools Must Restore Distance Learning Options For Some Students With Disabilities, Federal Judge Rules

A student photographed from behind sits in front of a laptop. On the screen, a person holds her hand up forming a sign in American Sign Language.
A 13-year-old student takes part in remote distance learning with her deaf education teacher on October 28, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. The eighth grader is hearing impaired and has a translator for in-class learning and often while distance learning on a Chromebook.
(John Moore/Getty Images
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Getty Images North America)
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A federal judge has handed a small victory to the parents of students with disabilities who wanted their kids to keep learning from home when public school campuses reopened earlier this year.

A California law enacted this year, Assembly Bill 130, said students who opt out of in-person classes have essentially one alternative: enroll in an “independent study” program.

But very early on, advocates for students in special education sounded the alarm. They said independent study programs are inappropriate for most students with disabilities.

California education officials — as well as some state lawmakers and school district leaders — disagreed.

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But late Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston sided with the advocates, ruling California schools were forcing parents to "choose between the harm of their children losing educational opportunity or risking their health and safety."

Illston's ruling applies to the relative handful of students in the lawsuit. For that group, schools must restore pandemic-era offerings — like fully-remote, virtual instruction — that had been previously available for students with special education plans called IEPs.

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).