Last week’s senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for Department of Education Secretary, has left thousands of special needs parents across the country concerned about the future of their children’s educational opportunities, prompting more than 100,000 people to sign a petition asking the Senate not to confirm DeVos.
Fear over DeVos’ confirmation comes following her apparent lack of knowledge regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law ensuring services to children with disabilities. Devos, a proponent of charter schools and voucher programs, also lacks the educational background of prior education secretaries, with no formal degrees or training in education.
When questioned by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), whose son has cerebral palsy, DeVos avoided answering whether or not she would enforce IDEA, admitting later that she “might have confused [IDEA],” not knowing that it was a federal law.
The petition – which will be delivered to the U.S. Senate – was started by Cassandra Rogers on Change.org and has grown steadily since the DeVos’ hearing, spiking in traffic on Tuesday where it jumped from 12,000 petitioners to more than 109,000 in less than 19 hours.
Rogers, whose youngest daughter has special needs, wrote the petition after watching the Senate confirmation hearing. “As the hearing proceeded, I became increasingly concerned by some of her responses to the questions posed by the senators,” Rogers told The Mighty. “When she was finally asked point blank by Sen. Tim Kaine if all schools receiving governmental funding should be required to meet the requirements of IDEA, she responded by saying that she thinks that that is a matter that is best left up to the states. I was so shaken by her response, I knew I had to do something. I called my senators and I just started typing.”
In the petition, Roberts writes:
Ms. DeVos does not support the equal rights of students with disabilities to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education as outlined in IDEA. In fact, she has stated that she believes that the responsibility for the education of students with disabilities should be determined at the state level… The impact of such an action would be profound and according to the National Center for Education Statistics would impact roughly 13 percent of the student population. The students receiving special education services are among the most vulnerable citizens of this country and are worthy of the same opportunities for receiving an education that every other American citizen has.
Of the 109,000 signatures, thousands of other special needs parents added their reasons for signing. “I am a parent of a child who benefitted from the provisions in IDEA. My hope is that those benefits will continue to be provided to all children with special needs,” Shirley Chamberlain, a petition supporter, wrote.
“As the parent of a child with autism I can’t support anyone who isn’t willing to fight for all students getting the best education possible. Individual states have shown to not always have children with disabilities best interests at heart,” Rebecca Hochstatler, another supporter, added.
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