Happy 40th Birthday IDEA!
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Posted by: Denise Marshall
Happy 40th Birthday Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Congress gave birth to you four decades ago with the promise that every eligible child with a disability could go to school and be provided with the special education and related services necessary to make progress alongside their brothers, sisters and neighbors. In your language this is known as the provision of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Congress also gave students with disabilities the right to learn in their neighborhood school, known to you as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Under your watch schools teachers and principals are required to provide all students an education, including students with disabilities. Much research has occurred since you were born, and the evidence demonstrates that when students with disabilities are provided a FAPE in the LRE, they are more engaged and have a greater opportunity to participate with their siblings and friends and make progress in a typical classroom.
For many students with disabilities, and their non-disabled peers, you have achieved higher academic performance. More students with disabilities are graduating, fewer are dropping out of school and increased numbers are attending college or gaining postsecondary career skills.
Despite your great promise, however, and the body of evidence in support of best practices, it is also true that many children are being denied equitable access to a quality and appropriate education. The future is dismal for those who aren’t taught by qualified teachers, held to the same high expectations as their peers and provided the supports and services for which they are entitled.
Along the way, some have forgotten that special education students are general education students first and that this is a civil rights issue. The use of the word “special” has come to mean an educational system marked with low expectations and diminished opportunities.
For nearly two decades, the 6.5 million students and their families have used your strength to protect civil rights. Your goal and purpose is and always has been to support every student and ensure they receive their lawful right to a successful education. You ensure that families are meaningful partners in this quest and understand why they need to have access to the full array of tools and broad spectrum available under the law to assure their child’s rights.
We also need to tell you that sadly, there are increasing attacks on parents for advocating for their child and seeking make up services when schools fail to provide an appropriate education. In its wisdom Congress understood that parents have every reason to advocate vigorously on behalf of their children and included procedural and due process protections as part of your promise. While disagreement over placement or methodology abound, the mechanisms provided to resolve this tension have been nothing short of a blessing for so many families. There are many dedicated professionals, who truly want to support and teach a child with a disability, who are frustrated by how the system prevents them from providing the instruction or service the student needs. Without the parent's right to compel the school district to meet their child's needs, many students with disabilities will continue to receive inadequate educations. The rights you provide create opportunities and change lives.
While being thankful for those rights, we also must restore fairness. COPAA continues to voice concern over the imbalance of power in due process proceedings. We work tirelessly to reverse the Supreme Court's decisions in Arlington CSD v. Murphy (prohibiting parents from recovering expert witness fees), and Schaffer v. Weast (placing the burden of proof on parents). We successfully advocated for sweeping reform to the failed and outdated monitoring and compliance system. We push for access to and the right to independent evaluations, for families to truly be meaningful partners, and for our children to master the materials and grade level content. We push for the end to the use of aversive practices that impact children, especially restraint and seclusion, and the overuse of discipline and segregation. We seek to ensure equitable access and meaningful outcomes for all of our children, including students of color, who are unfairly denied services and suffer the consequence of low expectations and the disproportionate practices of exclusion, school pushout, and criminalization.
It’s time for everyone to know what we do, that you are the preeminent law for millions of worthy students. Equality shouldn’t be something we question 40 years after your passage. Equality for all must be the norm in our society, not the exception.
Happy Birthday IDEA, COPAA applauds you, wants to support you and expects so much more of you. Here’s to many, many more.