Christina PeerAugust 2, 2021

On July 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) published a joint resource to provide information about school districts’ obligations to students for whom COVID is a disability, also referred to as “long COVID.”  Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are numerous post-COVID conditions that can create new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people sometimes experience more than four weeks after a COVID-19 infection.  Some symptoms that can occur in children include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Mood changes
  • Fever
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in period cycles
  • Multi-organ effects or autoimmune conditions
  • Rash

Long COVID can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).  Depending on the severity and impact of long COVID symptoms, and the necessity of specially designed instruction, students suffering with long COVID could also be eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).  In determining whether to evaluate a student under Section 504 or IDEA, districts should consider the following:

  • Students can qualify for Section 504 protections even if their impairment does not substantially limit learning, as long as that impairment limits some other major life activity.
  • To qualify under the IDEA, however, the impairment must adversely affect the student’s educational performance and require specially-designed instruction.

If presented with a student suffering from long COVID symptoms, districts should:

  • Determine if a disability is suspected under Section 504 or the IDEA.
  • If a disability is suspected, notify the parent that the district suspects a disability and would like to evaluate the student to determine eligibility.
  • Obtain parental consent for the evaluation (or document the parent’s decision not to consent to the evaluation).
  • If consent is obtained, conduct the evaluation and make an eligibility decision (using the applicable Section 504 or IDEA eligibility criteria).
  • If the student is eligible, create and offer a Section 504 plan or IEP.

If you have any questions, please reach out to us. We are happy to help with any challenges your district may be experiencing.

Christina Peer is chair of the Education Law Group at  Walter | Haverfield. She can be reached at cpeer@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2918.