USA Education Department Hosts Virtual Summit Today, Announces New Efforts and Resources for Supporting Mental Health and Students with Disabilities

Today, the U.S. Department of Education will host a first-of-its-kind virtual summit, From Recovery to Thriving: Supporting Mental Health & Students with Disabilities, to highlight steps schools, colleges, and communities can take to support students with disabilities and students with mental health needs.

The summit will spotlight the essential partnership between schools and families to ensure effective implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Department is also releasing new resources for schools, colleges, and communities to promote mental health and the social and emotional well-being of children and students.

“Today’s summit is a testament to the strength and resilience of the disability community, a community that we know has faced unique challenges in the face of the pandemic,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “The Department stands ready to help educators, school and program staff, and families thoughtfully design learning experiences—and to ensure students with disabilities continue to have equal access to in-person instruction. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and today’s summit demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the Biden-Harris administration to protecting our students’ social-emotional well-being.”

The Department’s efforts today build on President Biden’s Unity Agenda goal of transforming how Americans understand, access, and treat mental health.

FAQs on the Disability-Related Rights of Student Veterans with Disabilities

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in coordination with the Military Affairs Team, is issuing a new resource to address questions that student veterans with disabilities may have about their civil rights as college students. The FAQ highlights that the legal standards used to determine disability status under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a federal civil rights law that protects students with disabilities from discrimination, are not the same as the standards used by the military and the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs. The FAQ also describes when veterans with disabilities are entitled to academic accommodations and how they may request them.

Resources on Website Accessibility

A new series of “how-to” videos on website accessibility covers topics including how people with disabilities use technology, applicable federal laws, and how to identify and remediate technological barriers that can interfere with the ability of parents and students with disabilities to participate in modern American education. OCR’s National Digital Accessibility Team has resolved over 1,000 digital accessibility cases since its formation just under three years ago, making educational institutions’ online programs, services, and activities more accessible to people with disabilities. The 20-part video series draws from that experience and was released in partnership with the ADA National Network.

Digital Accessibility Compliance Reviews

OCR will soon launch 100 new compliance reviews examining digital accessibility in elementary and secondary schools and districts, postsecondary institutions, state departments of education, libraries, and vocational rehabilitation services. Reviews will cover online learning, public-facing websites, and parent-resource and communications platforms to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The American Rescue Plan included $3 billion to help states support infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Another $40 billion was provided to colleges through Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds to provide emergency aid to students and meet urgent public health needs related to the pandemic, including providing evidence-based mental health supports.

“The last few years have been especially tough on students—and students with disabilities, in particular, who’ve faced huge barriers and had their lives turned upside down,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. “We owe it to every single student with a disability and every single student struggling with mental health challenges to get them the support they need in order to thrive inside and out of the classroom. That’s why I worked so hard to pass the American Rescue Plan and get students and schools the resources they need to get back in the classroom safely and get their learning back on track, and I’m glad Secretary Cardona is so focused on eliminating barriers for students with disabilities—and making sure all students can get the quality education they deserve.”

Today’s sessions will include:

  • Opening remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
  • Remarks from U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.
  • Remarks from Day Al-Mohamed, Director of Disability Policy, White House Domestic Policy Council.
  • Panel discussions on key topics, including:
    • Inclusive Pathways: Supporting People with Disabilities as they Transition from School through Career.
    • Mental Health in Higher Education: Supporting Student Well-Being Through HEERF Grants.
    • IDEA Implementation: Inclusion & Access for Students with Disabilities.
    • COVID-19 Recovery for Students with Disabilities: Supporting the Whole Child.
    • Web and Digital Accessibility: Creating Learning Environments Where Everyone Belongs.
  • A TED-style talk with Jeff Deickman, an Army veteran with a disability and a doctoral student at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
  • Remarks from Education Department leaders including U.S. Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon, and Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning Roberto Rodriguez.
  • Remarks from Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Taryn Mackenzie Williams.
  • Closing remarks from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten.

The Department has taken a series of steps to uphold the rights of students with disabilities and support schools and institutions with providing mental health resources to students. These include:

  • Strengthening and protecting the rights for students with disabilities by beginning the process to amend regulations implementing Section 504.
  • Releasing new guidance to assist colleges in providing mental health supports for students, faculty, and staff.
  • Publishing, Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health, a resource for schools, colleges and communities to promote mental health and the social and emotional well-being of children and students.
  • Awarding $198 million in American Rescue Plan funds to support students’ basic needs and provided guidance on how colleges could use federal funds to bolster mental health counseling programs.
  • Helping teachers, staff, and families thoughtfully design safe, in-person learning experiences for all students – including students with disabilities.

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