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Thursday, June 27, 2024

Special Education After COVID

  In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. II also discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus proved to be the biggest disaster of all. 

Sara Randazzo  and  Matt Barnum at WSJ:

More American children than ever are qualifying for special education, but schools are struggling to find enough teachers to meet their needs.

A record 7.5 million students accessed special-education services in U.S. schools as of 2022-2023, including children with autism, speech impairments and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. That is 15.2% of the public-school student population, up from less than 13% a decade earlier, the most recent federal data shows.

Several factors are driving the increase. Pandemic disruptions left kids with lingering learning and behavioral challenges. Parents have become more assertive about asking for services, as the stigma around special education has lessened. Autism diagnoses have also risen in recent decades, and the state of Texas has seen a boom in special education after changing an approach that had limited access.


Since students returned to school, special-education teachers say they are seeing more mental-health issues and extreme behaviors, including students hitting staff, making lewd remarks and throwing furniture. Having the right support, like an aide to help a student calm down when they get stressed, can alleviate the behaviors.
“Traditionally there have been a lot of kids who were able to skate by and maintain at a level where they didn’t get flagged,” said Katy Chaffin, a special-education teacher in San Diego. “When you take years of school closure, for those kids, they’ve fallen so much farther behind.”


The 1970s-era federal law that created the special education system authorizes federal funding for up to 40% of the costs to provide the services, but the federal contribution has always fallen far short of that. Adjusted for inflation, regular federal funding for the law has fallen since 2010, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

A separate legal avenue for children with disabilities is a 504 plan, which guarantees school accommodations like extra time on tests. The share of students receiving a 504 has risen from 1% in school year 2009-2010 to 3.3% in 2020-2021, according to an analysis of federal data by Perry Zirkel, an education law researcher.