Translating the US Secretary of Education’s 24 March 2022 letter
What in the world did he say?
On 24 March 2022, the US Secretary of Education, Miguel A. Cardona, published an eight-page statement about school safety in the COVID era. The statement provided no purposes (two instances of “purpose” in footnotes), but it purported to offer guidance for those concerned with special education. The Secretary wrote that the letter will provide “some updates and resources to aid in your efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in schools and ensure all students can safely learn in person” (Cardona, 2022; p. 1)
We hope this document serves as a helpful resource and source of information for educators, families, and school communities on how to effectively include students with disabilities in in-person learning. We encourage school personnel who have questions to take advantage of the resources developed by the Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)-funded technical assistance centers. Additionally, parents, guardians and other caregivers may find their local parent training and information center here and reach out for direct assistance....
Embedded in the message is a subordinate phrase that reminds readers that children with long-COVID qualify as having a disability:
It is important to remember that Sate and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) are bound by Federal laws, including Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) to ensure the inclusion of students with disabilities, <i>including those experiencing Long COVID,4</i> in our nation’s schools. [emphasis added by JohnL]
The footnote in that quotation refers to another document published by the US ED in the summer of 2021 in which ED describe “obligations of schools, public agencies, and postsecondary institutions to students and children with long COVID” (US Department of Education, 2021).
There are also three points that apparently are special, because they are numbered:
Leveraging the IEP or Section 504 Processes to Ensure Protections are In Place to Protect In-Person Learning;
Continuing Use of Layered Prevention Strategies to Keep School Communities Safe; and
Ensuring Students Receive Education and Services in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Each of those three sections includes lot and lots of words. What’s less clear is what in the world those words mean for actions by educators and parents. I read and reread the letter, and I didn’t get much guidance. I got mostly a lot of lawyer-speak, > 4000 words of it. I mean...”protections are in place to protect...”—what does that say?
If this is an example of an educated communication, it does not inspire confidence, at least for me, in what the communicators are saying. Too much gobbledygook and too little reader-friendly phrasing. Readers might want to consult a press release from the Council for Exceptional Children, (2022), for a view of the meaning of the letter.
But, there we have it.
Cardona, M. A. (2022, March 24). Dear educators and parents. US Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/letter-to-educators-and-parents-regarding-new-cdc-recommendations-03-24-2022.pdf
Council for Exceptional Children. (2022). Education Secretary addresses students with disabilities’ rights in accordance with CDC guidelines. Author. https://exceptionalchildren.org/blog/education-secretary-addresses-students-disabilities-rights-accordance-cdc-guidelines
US Department of Education. (2021, 26 July). Long COVID under Section 504 and the IDEA: A resource to support children, students, educators, schools, service providers, and families. Author. https://sites.ed.gov/idea/idea-files/long-covid-under-section-504-and-the-idea-a-resource/