FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notified Fairfax County Public Schools it was initiating a directed investigation due to “disturbing reports” regarding the school district’s COVID-19 response in providing educational services to students with disabilities.

The DOE sent the letter to FCPS Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand in January, and since, FCPS said to WDVM that they “are aware of this but have not received any follow-up.”

Eileen Chollet is the parent of a second-grader who has a rare developmental disability that inhibits her from excelling in virtual school. In July, when FCPS announced all schools would be virtual, Chollet was understanding until she found out the school was allowing in-person childcare for a price per month, dependent on the family’s income.

“I sort of understood that this is for safety, until August 18 when they announced that, ‘Well we can’t allow a 10-person self-contained special education class in her school, but we can allow paid supportive learning for $1,472 per month in self-contained classes of ten kids.’ That’s safe, but ten kids in a special-ed classroom are not safe,” said Chollet.

When Chollet found out, she informed another news source about the childcare. She thought it would end there; instead, it led to a federal investigation.

“Someone in the federal government was listening, and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights opened this investigation in January,” explained Chollet.

In the DOE’s letter to Dr. Brabrand, it mentions the childcare program followed by this statement, “…OCR is concerned that the District has failed to provide a ‘Free Appropriate Public Education’ (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability as required by federal law and denied students with disabilities equal access to education.”

Letter sent to Dr. Scott Brabrand from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, Chollet has filed a special education complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (IDEA) with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), claiming that her daughter did not have access to a FAPE. VDOE initially ruled FCPS did provide an appropriate education under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was later remanded by an appeal reviewer. 

“The complaint appeal reviewer, because I appealed that complaint, overturned Virginia Department of Education and said, ‘You have a responsibility under the law to provide a free appropriate public education to each student. It is clear that this student cannot access virtual learning’,” said Chollet.

Chollet expects to receive another ruling from VDOE in about two months. Her daughter will return to FCPS for two-day hybrid virtual learning on Tuesday.