Here's Why DeVos' Latest Move Makes Me Worried About IDEA As a Parent


Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Ellen Stumbo, The Mighty’s Parenting Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

I parent two children with disabilities who have Individualized Education Plans (IEP) at school; children who currently receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This is an educational right for all children with disabilities in the United States, guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education, head by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, rescinded 72 guidance documents related to the educational rights of students with disabilities, students like my children.

As a parent, this worries me. While some information has been provided as to why each of these documents were rescinded, the outrage that followed is proof the Department of Education hasn’t done enough to assure parents and educators that IDEA is safe. It’s poor communication.

When DeVos was nominated, the parenting community made it clear we did not want her. Her ignorance regarding special education was made clear during her confirmation hearing when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked her about IDEA — a nationwide law all schools receiving taxpayer dollars are required to follow — which she said implementing was “a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Senators received phone calls and mail from constituents and parents expressing their fears over DeVos’ lack of qualifications. I was one of them. A petition requesting she not be confirmed garnered more than 400,000 signatures. Despite the overwhelming number of voices asking our elected representatives to represent us, our voices were ignored.

So what about the rescinded documents? As of right now, disability rights organizations are still trying to figure out the impact removing these documents will have. The laws were not changed, there is no new legislation. As a matter of fact, reading through some of the reasons why these documents were rescinded does make sense. Like the document specific to 1999, or a few written during a period of transition as new guidances were set in place and active.

But, more importantly, is the Department of Education pointing people in the right direction to show where each of these issues is now covered and updated? Not yet.

Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? But could it be?

Here is the thing, some schools, states and districts do a wonderful job servicing kids with disabilities. Some IEP teams work wonderfully together, but that is not the case for many children and their parents. I know of more parents who dread IEP meetings, who have to fight schools so that their kids receive the services and supports they need. There are schools that fail to meet IDEA. There are some states that follow IDEA well, and some that don’t, even though it is a federal law and special education services should be the same regardless of where you live.

Will these rescinded documents make the process more difficult? Will it make it harder for parents? Maybe, maybe not.

As a parent, I fear this move by DeVos and her department will allow schools and states to get away with not following aspects of IDEA, leaving us with no place to turn to for answers.

Liz Hill, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education told The Mighty, “the Department is clearing out guidance that is no longer in force or effect because the guidance is superseded by current law/guidance or out of date. Students with disabilities and their advocates will see no impact on services provided.”

Saying there will be “no impact” isn’t enough. We need documentation showing where these issues are now covered. I want assurance this is not taking a step back in special education. I want assurance this is a not a move to get away from IDEA as a federal law. I want assurance my child’s right to an appropriate education will not be taken away.

Can the Department of Education give me this assurance?

Image by Wikimedia Commons.

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