Post by Johnny W. Collett, Assistant Secretary Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services United States Department of Education:
As a former high school special education teacher and state special education director, I have learned that delivering on the promises we have made to children and parents will not be achieved by merely tinkering around the edges.At The Mighty, Ellen Stumbo writes:
Rethinking special education will require an unwavering commitment to address barriers that stand in the way of improving opportunities and outcomes for each child, and to make needed changes at the federal, state, and local levels. We must be willing to confront anything that does not facilitate needed improvement. That includes structures that limit opportunities for children with disabilities; practices that put the needs of “the system” over the individual needs of a child; policies that, no matter how well-intentioned, do not have the impact of improving outcomes for students; or laws and regulations that constrain innovation. We cannot ignore the challenges that students, parents, teachers and schools face.
Any policy that could deny education services to a student who needs them would be a failed policy. So we must root out anything that separates students from the individualized education they deserve.
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services is committed to confronting these—and any other issues—that stand in the way of a child’s success. We will partner with parents and families, individuals with disabilities—anyone and everyone who is focused on raising expectations and improving outcomes for individuals with disabilities.
This commitment means acknowledging that states, school districts, and parents know the needs of their students better than we do. Our goal is to provide them with as much flexibility and support as possible so that they can ensure their students’ needs are being met.
Giving states the “flexibility” to make decisions regarding special education concerns me.Some schools, states and districts do a wonderful job servicing kids with disabilities and some IEP teams work together wonderfully. 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, many who have had to take legal action. 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.
We know federal laws were created in order to protect all students regardless of the state they live in. Without this uniformity, states can create different policies, procedures and laws. This could create situations where families in states with weak laws may consider moving to a different state. A migration that could cause states with strong laws to become underfunded and overcrowded, creating a new set of problems. These issues are already a reality, but at least there is a federal law on our side, regardless of where we live.