On Thursday this week, Arne Duncan praised the progress made by IDEA law as the 35th anniversary of the passage of this legislation approaches. He went on to say that although there has been progress, the dream hasn’t been fully realized yet. However, the law is a victory in the civil rights movement as disabled children as included more and more in schools with their non-disabled peers. And it goes on from there.
But here is the magic trick……while you are distracted by the speech and lines like this one, “Those students with disabilities who did attend public schools often were bused long distances to schools where they had little chance to interact with the full range of their peers,” in the background something else is at work at the Department of Education.
Just last week the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education ruled against families who want to keep preschool children in their local preschools rather than attending a special preschool for kids with disabilities. The ruling states that there is not enough evidence to find that this violates the law. Since there are peer models of non-disabled students and they are providing services as required by law, the court felt that these students were receiving special education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). However, 85% of the children attending this preschool are identified as disabled and only 15% are non-disabled.
Why does this matter? Currently in the US there is an estimated rate of only 10-11% of students with disabilities being served in public education. That is a very small proportion of disabled to non-disabled peers. This new preschool, while providing peer interaction, does not provide enough non-disabled peer interactions when compared to the true ratio in the general population. Last time I looked, it was more common to follow what the majority of your peers are doing. So how is shipping these students off to a special school where the vast majority of your peers are also disabled actually providing an adequate educational setting for these students?
I don’t know about you, but the magic trick didn’t work on me. Flowery speeches don’t change the fact that the current education system is not meeting the needs of the disabled as originally intended by IDEA law. I see this ruling by Mr. Duncan’s own department for what it is, dead wrong and a step backwards in time that will not help our students with disabilities to integrate as part of society.