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Friday, February 24, 2017

Is Special Education in Trouble?

From Jim Gerl's Special Education Law Blog

By Jim Gerl, Esq.
February 14, 2017

OK, it is time for a serious question: is special education in trouble?

This blog is not partisan; we do not endorse candidates or tell you how to vote. Indeed, I take great comfort in the fact that historically, special education has received widespread and solid support from both political parties.

My intention here is not to get political, yet there may well be cause for concern by recent political developments.

I began to worry when Donald Trump, a candidate for the highest office in the land, mocked a reporter with a disability on national television.

You can see it in the video below:



When I saw this on television, I felt sick. If you read this blog regularly, you know that bullying of children with disabilities is a big problem in this country. We have done many posts on this topic.

What sort of signal does it send to children when one of out leaders bullies a person with a disability? Will this encourage others to do so?

OK, so the backdrop is extremely disturbing. Recently Disability Scoop reported that references to disabilities disappeared from the White House website after the new administration took over. Also a very bad sign.


Another recent development was the disappearance of the idea website idea.ed.gov - a site developed for special ed stakeholders to find information. The site is again active, but it has been replaced by a referral to the generic OSEP website.

More bad signs?

So what are the President's views on special education? During the general election campaign, I emailed both the Trump and Clinton campaigns concerning their views on special education. Neither responded. So I am not sure what the President's views are concerning special education.

I then looked at the people whom he announced that he had selected for his cabinet. His pick for secretary of Education is Betsy DeVos. She has been a champion of vouchers for parents to send children to private schools. The Council for Exceptional Children have questioned the policy wisdom of vouchers.

Her testimony during her confirmation hearing seemed to indicate that she was not familiar with IDEA, the special education law, and she thought that IDEA compliance should be up to the states.

The Secretary of Education has responsibilities that relate directly to the enforcement of the special education law and regulations. So some a lot more red flags have been raised, but I still don't know what she thinks about special education.

Then there is the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Although the AG does not directly enforce the special education laws, his department does have enforcement responsibilities for the Americans with Disabilities Act which does have some requirements for school children with disabilities.

Also, the Solicitor General, who works for the AG, argues the administration's position on certain special education cases that come before the Supreme Court. So the AG can play an important role in this field.

But Jeff Sessions, the incoming AG is not a fan of special education. In a speech he gave on the floor of the Senate in 2000, he attacked the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act, known as IDEA, saying, “In fact, it may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.” He blamed IDEA for the lack of civility in our country.

He said, in part:

"We have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely." (emphasis added.)

Later he stated,

"There is no telling how many instructional hours are lost by teachers in dealing with behavior problems. In times of an increasingly competitive global society it is no wonder American students fall short. Certain children are allowed to remain in the classroom robbing the other children of hours that can never be replaced...

It is even more frustrating when it is a special education child who knows and boasts, “they can’t do anything to me” and he is placed back in the classroom to disrupt it day after day, week after week.

It is clear that IDEA ’97 not only undermines the educational process it also undermines the authority of educators. In a time when our profession is being called upon to protect our children from increasingly dangerous sources our credibility is being stripped from us.

I am sure you have heard the saying: The teachers are scared of the principals, the principals are scared of the superintendents, the superintendents are scared of the parents, the parents are scared of the children, and the children are scared of no one. And why should they be?

I have experienced the ramifications of the 'new and improved' law firsthand. I had one child attempt to assault me — he had been successful with two other teachers. He was suspended for one day. I had another child make sexual gestures to me in front of the entire class.

Despite the fact that every child in my class and a majority of the children in the school knew of it, I was told by my assistant principal that nothing could be done because 'these special ed kids have rights.' " (emphasis added.)

Yikes! You can read Mr. Sessions entire speech here. Lotsa stuff going on, no?

Is it time to call your congressional representatives?

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