On April 3, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights continued its guidance on how institutions can implement distance learning while complying with federal civil rights laws. This guidance is timely because distance learning due to COVID-19 is redefining how most educational institutions operate. When all levels of academic institutions had to close their doors due to stay-at-home orders, many of them opened the proverbial window by turning to online education. Despite its increasing popularity over the past decade or so, distance learning remains an emerging landscape for many institutions as they navigate purchasing/installing new technology, implementing new methods of teaching, and ensuring connectivity with students. OCR’s guidance provides a roadmap to this new territory.
In response to a complaint from disability advocacy groups in Washington state regarding health care rationing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a reminder to entities covered by federal civil rights statutes of their ongoing obligation, amid the COVID-19 crisis, to prohibit discrimination on the base of race, color, national origin, age, religion, sex, and disability. OCR is responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The bulletin reminds covered entities that “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care based on stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”
To read the full text of this post by Duane Morris partner Colin Knisely, please visit the Duane Morris Coronavirus (COVID-19) Blog.
As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.