Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Special Education In Trouble? #IDEA #special education #POTUS


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 The site is again active, but it has been replaced by a referral to the generic OSEP website.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?

OK so what is your opinion- is special education in trouble? Tell us what you think: am I overreacting or is it possible that special ed will become a thing of the past? Is it time to call your congressional representatives?


23 comments:

  1. I'm not sure it is in trouble. What I want to see is whether or not attorneys will build in an immunity clause for private schools who receive public funds.

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    1. Immunity clauses don't make me happy by the way. I don't believe in immunity when a child is harmed.

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    2. it's already in the proposed CHOICE act from Sen. Scott.....no requirement fro FAPE for a pricvate school taking federal $.

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  2. I think special education is in huge danger. We have heard signals from the highest levels of the executive branch that special education is not valued. We have a Sec of Education whose ignorance of special ed is unfathomable and who favors vouchers that can pay for religious schooling. The Senators most intimately aware of the history of IDEA and the issues that gave rise to the enactment of the EHA and then the EAHCA (IDEA), have retired or died. We have the three branches of government controlled by a single party--a party that is overtly hostile to programs that serve disadvantaged populations. We have a campaign promise from the current POTUS to divert money from special education to fund "school choice". We have huge pressure from both major parties as well as from corporate interests to privatize public education, i.e., more publicly-funded charter schools that profit corporations. Pretty sure FAPE for kids with disabilities is a very low priority in this context.

    Aside from those issues, I have no concerns about the future of special education.

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  3. Libby and Marianne,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Stay tuned here for further details.

    JG

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  4. Jim, this is no comment on the thirty thousand foot issue but Session's comments have to be viewed in the context in which they were made which is the (ultimately) 2004 removal of "stay-put" from the disciplinary regulations. perhaps inartful but not the 'means rea" implied here and elsewhere. they only pertained to the very problematic and ill-advised disciplinary stay put provisions from '97.

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  5. I have yet to see anything I find truly alarming. Wasn't a fan of the DeVos confirmation but the Ed system in general, isn't working well, and special ed in particular is absolutely broken. I'd be willing to keep the laws and throw out the structures. Its not really working as it stands.

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    1. I too am concerned about the current state of special ed and have entertained the idea that we might just start fresh. I'm curious what your idea ("keep the laws and throw out the structures") might look like....

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    2. and I would assume that you have never seen a special education placement in action from beginning to end for one student.... (unless you happen to be a heartbroken parent of a child who was not served well --- and if that is the case, I am truly sorry for you and I sincerely wish things had worked out better for you.) BUT, if you had, you would see that the process is largely successful.... given what it is... a program to maximize ( oh, no, that word is not actually the requirement, but it is what MOST of the special ed teachers and providers strive for) program to support the special needs childs meaningful progress in the regular curriculum. For the most part the teachers are exemplary and the students have positive, supportive environments on a day to day basis. I don't know what has been your experience, but your working is very negative and too general to be accurate. Just wait until Betsy shows her hand. So many will be praying for the days when they received the services they are getting now.

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  6. I not only think that special education is in trouble, but, also, Americans with Disabilities Act. If the President can make fun of a disabled reporter and think nothing of it, what will happen to all the laws that help people who are disable. I do believe that people with disabilities have an important place in today's workforce. As a person with a disability, I am afraid, in the near future, my employer will be able to fire me because I am disabled.

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  7. As a retired special education director with over 38 years of work in public education and special education, I do believe we may see a swing in the pendulum toward a more conservative approach and desire to preserve special education for those who truly need it. Like many areas of our society, advocacy groups with good intentions have encouraged politicians and bureaucrats to create more and more complex laws to ensure more special treatment. The numbers of children and adults identified with disabilities has multiplied dramatically in the U.S. as there have become more benefits and priviledges (some may say excuses) identified with a label that was once thought to be negative and stigmatizing. My personal favorite is the number of perfectly normal people walking around resorts with their "therapy animals". I have several family members with significant disabilities and it does disturb me to see how the term is being used to gain benefits from a generous society. Sooner or later the bubble has to burst as someone needs to suggest as Lieberman did, "Preserve Special Education for those who truly need it." It is almost certain that this will become a hot button issue if the Republicans are willing to touch it. You can expect full media coverage to promote the most emotion and criticism of anyone who might even suggest that some reasonable adjustments need to be made. Special Education has created strong lobbies and like the NRA, it seems to be untouchable. This will create a media frenzy for CNN and MSNBC and bring out Democrats and teacher unions to support parent groups. Perhaps some disability advocacy groups will recognize that they need to help preserve special education by endorsing more thoughtful legislation.

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  8. Yes, special ed is in deep trouble, & has been since 94-142 was passed. I am referring to the state & district levels. Even caring educators do not have the knowledge or control over what they are dealing with regarding educating students with disabilities. I am in TX. Look what the state education agency & schools here did regarding the 8.5% "standard". Even when you have good laws/rules, it comes down to implementation. I speak from the perspective of a retired TX special ed director, now working for the state PTI.

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  9. Public Education is in big trouble and Special Education is not far behind. Let's also remember that the Federal Mandates for Special Education has never been fully funded so like many government mandates (except those for the military because we all know there's more money to be made from war then from literacy). In addition there are too many loop holes and little oversight on the local level to ensure that the laws are being followed. So what recourse does a parent have but to sue.And few parents do it. I am a Special Education Advocate for parents in a rural county in New York State. At times I feel like I'm stuck in a 50's movies. In addition the local school and school funding is so poor that resources keep shrinking. Too bad we as a country have demonize Public School unions and teachers as being the bad, evil ones instead of seeing who is really controlling this government. All I know is, we need to fight for compassion and empathy for all struggling children, especially those with disabilities otherwise we will be going back to the 50's where over 2 million children were either out of school or in horrible programs that basically housed humanity. And choice or vouchers are not going to help. We need an overhaul of our school structure and the needed funds to do so. Let's stop giving welfare to corporations, Big Oil and Chemical and make them and the 1% pay their fare share of taxes so we can care for our most vulnerable citizens.

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  10. Thanks all for your comments.

    Stay tuned here for more details.

    JG

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  11. I agree with many of the comments listed previously. Public Education is in trouble and Special Education is included in this as well. There is always a lack of funding but it appears that this may be more of the case in the upcoming years.

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  12. The view that this entire administration seems to have toward public education makes me fearful, even more so when someone who has never been a part of public education is making decisions for it, and even more than that when the link to IDEA resources was removed from the public page. These actions make me fearful for public education, but especially special education.

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  13. hfsd x 2,

    Thanks for your comment.

    JG

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  14. We are in an unprecedented time. Special education could possibly be in danger. On one side you have teachers and administrators who are sick and tired of the law protecting "specific" students who take advantage of the system to the point where school have their hands tide in being able to discipline these students in the appropriate way they need to be disciplined. A lot of time these students are a disruption to the rest of the class and know that they are. The law was place to protect the students whose rights were being abused in ways that they were not being able to get the right help and education that is there right to have. IN a lot of ways though the law needs to be revised so that students whop take advantage of the system will not be able to any more. The law is there for a good reason but needs to be revised.

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  15. I've been a teacher for over 17 years and eleven of those I was a special day class case manager for moderate/severe. Recently, I took a job with a tech company that provides cloud based software for lessons and data collection across the United States. If you have read the book "History of Madness" by Michel Foucault, then you know that there has always been a "problem". In my experience, most schools and their staff don't have sufficient training, resources or lack proper expectations. The paradigm of teaching students with disabilities is so very different than the traditional teacher centered approach that has been historically offered to students. The "Myth of Averages" is deeply rooted in our Henry Ford type of system, because it is seen as efficient. The expectation that students with a disability have the entitlement to a "Free and Appropriate Public Education" is contrary to the idea of competition and maintenance of a system that expects students to become independently responsible for themselves.

    The reality is that we are just repeating history and the question has always been and will always be, "What do we do with people with disabilities? How do they fit in to our society?" On one hand, we believe as a society that killing others is wrong. We will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save lives, but then we do little to help the lives we saved to live a life of quality. People with disabilities and their families will always be required to make demands upon those without disabilities, because until the people in power suffer from a disability, they will not understand or appreciate what it is to have one.

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  16. Peter,

    Thanks for your comment.

    JG

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  17. I think public education as a whole is in trouble, but I don't think anyone would be so cruel as to make drastic changes to special education.

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