Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What Will Happen To Special Education?

Yet another reason to be concerned about Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. Special Education. Back in 2000, when he was an Alabama state senator (formerly the state's attorney general), Sessions made an utterly ignorant, and now potentially dangerous, statement about special education and the federal law which guarantees the rights of students with disabilities, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). You can read his whole statement here

It's difficult to pull quotes out of the text because the entire statement is so heinous. Yes, students with disabilities have rights. No, those rights, and those exercising those rights are not "a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America." The disqualifier at the beginning of that paragraph does not excuse the ridiculousness of the statement either. So glad to hear that he didn't want to end IDEA.

Sessions quotes parts of letters written to him by teachers who are frustrated by their students and what they described as problems with the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). While I am sure there are teachers who are frustrated by what they see in their schools, to blame students with disabilities for those frustrations is absurd. 

Sessions does give a nod to the lack of funding associated with IDEA. It has never been fully funded, nor has it come close to the goal of 40% funded. Ever. He should have been railing against a system that purposely defunds, or underfunds, education mandates, no matter whom they directly affect. To blame the students and IDEA is absurd. 

As I read through Sessions' statement and the statements by teachers, I saw what, in my opinion, is violation after violation of those students' rights. IDEA is not a permission slip for students to behave badly. It does not prevent "discipline." It does not require students to be mainstreamed with their neurotypical peers. 

What IDEA does do is requires states, and therefore school districts, to place students in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). It requires them to conduct Functional Behavior Analyses, using those results to create Behavior Plans for exactly the scenarios which are described in Sessions' statement. This is not rocket science. This appears to have been completely lost on every one of those teachers and their administrators and Sessions. It also appears to be lost on these people that wrong classroom settings, inappropriate placements, and lack of services contribute to inappropriate behavior - in any setting. 

Before someone piles on here, yes, there are students, unfortunately, who do act out and have no self-regulation or control. God bless the teachers and paras who teach and assist them. It is a reality. However, it should not be happening in a general education setting. LRE does not mean a general education, mainstreamed setting. LRE means providing the best environment for that student. It's a simple concept that is grossly misused. 

I was astonished at the claims that teachers are leaving the profession because of lawsuits brought by special education parents. The statement implies parents are going after teachers. That's not how the law works. It's absurd to state that as though it is fact. 

The last story is from a superintendent. He laments not being able to mete out similar discipline to two students who brought weapons to school. One student, with no disability, was given a 1-year suspension. The other student, with a disability and IEP, was placed for 45 days in an alternate school setting before returning to his regular school. 

I'm twitching as I write this because I cannot believe the rank stupidity of this decades-long educator. IDEA has an entire section dedicated to discipline (Sec. 300.530). In fact, there's even a section on weapons. He most certainly could have suspended that student with an IEP for 1-year, just like the first student. His own ignorance of the law made for the inequity. Further, it made his reference to Animal Farm ("All are equal, but some are more equal than others.") even more inappropriate. 

It also demonstrates that Sessions, as Alabama's former attorney general, either didn't know the law, or he knew and used this sorry excuse of a story to fortify his position that special education is ruining public education and teachers' careers. Shame on them both! 

Unbelievably, the superintendent continues with this ditty: "I became a teacher in 1965 and I do not remember hearing of gun shootings prior to 1975 when Congress began telling ten percent of our students you are not responsible." Gaslighting at its best, folks. When in doubt make an absurd claim, based on nothing, and blame it on the special ed kid. Disgusting. 

Sessions ended his abhorrent statement with this: "I think these teachers make a point. It is a matter we need to give careful consideration to, not overreact, not undermine the great principles of the Disabilities Act Program. But at the same time, we need to say that a child is not allowed to commit crimes, to disrupt classroom, to curse teachers, principals and students, and abuse them and do so with impunity."

Again, that is not what IDEA actually says. You'd think a state attorney general would know that. What will the enforcement of IDEA look like under a US Attorney General who doesn't know the law? Or, perhaps worse, one who does know the law and ignores it?

Edit to add: Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post republished part of this blog in her column Answer Sheet: Trump’s pick for attorney general once linked special education law to ‘decline in civility’ in classrooms. Thank you to Valerie!


  1. This will be devastating to the students and their future possibilities. I am sick about this.

  2. What an amazing piece. You are spot on in so many aspects. The suspension deal you mentioned, wow....you are 100%. As long as parents keep fighting for their kids, so will this teacher.