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Friday, November 19, 2010

Duncan on IDEA

Yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan observed the anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:

Thirty-five years ago, the passage of Public Law 94-142 was a model of bipartisan co-operation as Democrats and Republicans worked together to do what was right for America's children.

The law was a major civil rights victory. We must never lose sight of the history here. In 1975, more than one million children with disabilities were being turned away from school altogether.

Hundreds of thousands of children with severe disabilities were in institutions that didn't meet their needs.

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.

Those who went to a neighborhood school were usually placed in separate classrooms – not infrequently in a room as unwelcoming as a converted broom closet.

Even worse, many students with learning disabilities were never identified for the services they needed. Instead, they were labeled as lazy or unfocused and never received the supports that would enable them to reach their true potential.

Through IDEA, Democrats and Republicans agreed on several important principles. Students with disabilities should be guaranteed a "free, appropriate public education."

They should learn side by side with peers of all abilities. They should have an individualized education program to guide their educational experience.

And, parents should work with school officials as partners in their children's education.

These are the foundational principles that have transformed education for students with disabilities.