Challenges Providing Services to K-12 English Learners and Students with Disabilities during COVID-19

GAO reviewed distance learning plans from a nongeneralizable group of 15 school districts, selected for their high proportion of either English learners or students with disabilities. GAO also interviewed district officials in four of these 15 districts, selected based on the districts’ detailed plans for distance learning for either group of students; interviewed advocates, researchers, and representatives of associations of school administrators and related service providers; reviewed relevant federal laws including IDEA, regulations, and guidance; and interviewed federal officials. Some English learners and their families had difficulty fully participating in distance learning during spring 2020 due to a lack of necessary technology, language barriers, and the demands of meeting basic family needs. English learners lost opportunities to practice their language skills, according to school district officials and representatives of professional associations. Also, limited English comprehension affected the ability of families to assist students with the curriculum, according to representatives of professional associations and a technical assistance center. Stakeholders also told GAO that some school districts addressed aspects of these challenges by, for example, increasing access to the internet and devices and adapting materials and instructional methods. One school district partnered with a Spanish language TV network to broadcast curriculum for an hour every day. However, many of the major challenges with engaging English learners in distance education remained. For example, one district mailed home a workbook in both English and Spanish to help students access online learning, but this did not address the needs of students who speak one of the other approximately 90 languages in the district.


Challenges Providing Services to K-12 English Learners and Students with Disabilities during COVID-19