House Republicans seek investigation into impact of school closures on students with disabilities

Republicans criticized the administration for not doing more to reopen schools.

March 8, 2021, 12:51 PM

House Republicans on Monday called on Democrats to launch a bipartisan investigation into the impact of school closures on children with disabilities, warning that they are in particular danger of falling behind with remote learning.

"We are hearing from parents across the U.S. whose children with disabilities are bearing the greatest burden as schools remain closed," Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., James Comer, R-Ky., Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., wrote in a letter to the Democratic chairs of four House panels first obtained by ABC News.

"Many special needs children benefit from consistent and attentive, in-person instruction. Many special needs children also receive afternoon in-school therapy sessions. The lack of access to these services raises serious concerns about the impact on their mental health," the Republicans wrote.

PHOTO: Students file into their classroom at Sun Yat Sen M.S. 131, Feb. 25, 2021, in New York.
Students file into their classroom at Sun Yat Sen M.S. 131, Feb. 25, 2021, in New York.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

With many schools closed for a year now due to the pandemic, the GOP letter was clearly a jab at Democrats and President Joe Biden on what’s become a partisan issue in the pandemic.

Previously, the Trump administration insisted that schools should reopen but offered no firm benchmarks or standards on when to open and how to do so safely and never collected data on best practices. Instead, the Republican administration first released guidance last July urging schools to reopen but insisted that how they do so should be a local matter.

Under Biden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formulated the nation’s federal standard for reopening classrooms. But those guidelines have been criticized by many parents and some health experts as too strict and likely to leave too many students stuck with online learning indefinitely.

The request for an inquiry comes as Republican governors, pointing to declining coronavirus cases, are loosening restrictions and mandating in-person schooling for students.

Last week, Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order requiring schools to offer in-person instruction led by teachers by March 15, after spring break in the state.

Biden announced a new vaccine initiative to prioritize teachers and school workers for appointments at thousands of pharmacies across the country, in an effort to get every educator their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March and facilitate more in-person teaching.

In response to the GOP letter, a spokesperson for Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told ABC News Democrats are "equally concerned about the impact the pandemic has had on students with disabilities."

"That is why the Chairman supports the American Rescue Plan, which will invest nearly $130 billion in safely reopening schools, including $3 billion in new funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. If Republicans want to support students with disabilities, they should vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan," the aide said in a statement.

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