Providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

A school district’s obligation to provide FAPE remains unchanged under COVID. Specialized instruction and related services must continue for students with disabilities. However, what that looks like will inevitably change during this crisis. Schools must continue to meet their obligations in the best way they can. Moreover, districts must begin to plan for providing appropriate compensatory services to students with disabilities when schools return to normal.


The outbreak of COVID-19 launched the United States into a public health crisis, impacting families, schools, and communities in unprecedented ways. During this uncertain time, under entirely new and definitely not ideal conditions, we have to address students’ many needs, including nutrition, physical and mental health, internet access, and the accessibility of online learning options. To get through this, we’ll have to be creative and innovative. We’ll need to work together and help each other.

NCLD is committed to addressing these issues and sharing what we learn about serving students with disabilities—even while we’re learning it. When states began shutting down schools, one question emerged immediately: How will schools provide individualized services to students with disabilities? It’s clear that districts continue to have an obligation to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. And educators need to ensure that all students are learning. There’s already a dramatic gap in achievement and outcomes between students with disabilities and those without disabilities. This gap is even wider for students of color with disabilities. If educators wait until the world returns to normal to provide an education to students with disabilities, these students will fall even further behind. And educators will struggle to help them make up for this lost time. Working together, families, schools, and communities must be flexible. They must communicate effectively and continue to educate all students to the best of their ability.

As a start, NCLD has compiled common questions, emerging best practices, and examples of how educators, schools, districts, and states can and should move forward during this challenging time without stepping back from IDEA or civil rights.

This document is the first in a series that will highlight good ideas, creative thinking, and concrete examples of how families, schools, and communities are continuing to serve students with disabilities. The issues we explore include:

  1. Effective communication and collaboration between educators
  2. Innovation in instructional practices and provision of related services
  3. Planning ahead to provide students with compensatory services
  4. Strong school-parent communication and partnership
  5. Effective use of funding to support the most vulnerable learners