New evidence of Covid-19’s devastating impact on US children’s education was unveiled on Thursday as a top federal appeals court found that the Trump administration failed to provide adequate protective assistance to thousands of students with disabilities.
A federal judge in Brooklyn ordered the administration to provide appropriate medical equipment and personal protective equipment to the plaintiffs, who were challenging the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding to the Education Department’s grants for student access to Title II services, which include individualized education plans and other guidance that helps support student progress.
The plaintiffs had alleged that the Trump budget cuts amounted to a failure to protect students from being exposed to discrimination, resulting in serious and permanent harm, in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaintiffs included more than half a dozen public and private schools, which were involved in the lawsuit filed in March. The plaintiffs had sought $5.8 million in damages, a sum that has been capped by the courts at $2,000 per plaintiff.
On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Education Department failed to sufficiently consult with its own experts to make sure the money the Trump administration set aside for Title II programs was enough to compensate for the financial risks posed by Covid-19. The lawsuit, which was filed in March, stemmed from the administration’s decision to restrict the Title II program by directing that the funds be used mostly for the administration of high-risk health care providers.
Judge John Gleeson wrote that the Education Department did not conduct an adequate cost-benefit analysis to determine how the money the Trump administration set aside would be used during the pandemic. The plaintiffs argued that the Education Department “failed to adequately consider the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on school district budgets and student learning” and that the money was better spent on emergency supplies that could help protect the most vulnerable students.
“For example, the district did not have a plan for how to keep instructional staff safe while schools were closed or reduced to remote attendance; it had no plan for how to provide education for students who are on the autism spectrum; it did not have an emergency plan for educating students with special education needs during the pandemic,” he wrote in his opinion.