July 27, 2020
In a letter to the U.S. Senate leadership [PDF] addressing future COVID-19 legislation, ASHA stressed the need for additional funding to support students with disabilities and emphasized safety concerns for ASHA’s 90,000 school-based members as school districts develop plans for the 2020–2021 school year.
The letter is part of initial outreach to policymakers, following the release of ASHA’s Advocacy Position for Reopening Schools, including Congress, the U.S. Department of Education (ED), and ED's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). ASHA’s school-based members not only work in close proximity to students when providing in-person services, but also with different students throughout the day and may travel to multiple schools to provide necessary in-person services—all of which may increase the risk of contracting the coronavirus when schools reopen.
ASHA met with OSEP officials to discuss the Advocacy Position for Reopening Schools and expressed the importance of prioritizing the safety of audiologists and speech-language pathologists, assistants, students, other school personnel, and their families as schools and districts plan for reopening. ASHA asked for continued support of telepractice and distance learning during the public health emergency to help contain the virus. During the meeting with OSEP, ASHA also stressed that while necessary to contain COVID-19, face mask usage can pose significant everyday challenges for people with communication disorders—potentially impacting their education, health, safety, and quality of life. ASHA recommended the use of clear face masks and other communication aids, as appropriate.
OSEP agreed to include recommendations on the use of clear face masks and other appropriate adaptations, as appropriate, in upcoming guidance. OSEP also indicated a willingness to continue collaborating with ASHA, including helping to disseminate and highlight ASHA resources to state and local education agencies.
In a letter sent to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos [PDF], ASHA outlined the Advocacy Position for Reopening Schools with priority recommendations and supporting rationale. ASHA strongly emphasized the importance of granting state and local education agencies the flexibility to develop plans that prioritize safety while delivering the highest quality education possible during the upcoming school year. It is critical that decisions for reopening schools are based on scientific and evidence-based indicators of severity related to COVID-19 risk, including local infection rates, prevalence of community spread, and adequate availability of appropriate personal protective equipment.
These efforts are only the beginning of ASHA’s advocacy outreach following the release of ASHA’s Advocacy Position for Reopening Schools. ASHA is sharing the advocacy position widely on federal, state, and local levels, and looks forward to actively engaging with OSEP in support of ASHA members as new considerations and resources are developed. ASHA will continue engaging Congress over potential legislation regarding schools, establish stronger partnerships with allied stakeholders, and create additional resources for ASHA members to use locally.
For questions, contact Eric Masten, ASHA’s director of federal affairs, education, at firstname.lastname@example.org.