While it is our practice not to be political, special education and other disability-related issues have found their way into politics. Ipso facto, we’re political, especially with the mid-term elections around the corner. We know that many factors go into a person choosing what political affiliation they are, but if you are open to being a “one-issue voter,” we urge you to consider special education’s future your issue, and your vote for the Democrats.
We ask you to ask yourself: do you want people who feel that the federal government should have no role in education to write special education policy, or conversely to vote to RESCIND the federal legislation which protects children with disabilities? Let us give you some background.
Our special education system is a burdensome, complicated one. The IEP meetings alone are overwhelming for parents, and even educators. While the federal law protects their children, parents of children with disabilities have to act like Private Attorneys General to secure that to which they are legally entitled. There is no “special education 911” they can call when their child is falling apart; or when they are being bullied; or when they are crying because they are being yelled at because they can’t focus; or when they feel that they are dumb because they have dyslexia; or when they are suicidal; or when they can’t access their own school building in 2018 because they use a wheelchair; or are being denied the basic services to which they are entitled. The “remedy” parents have to ensure their child’s rights is through the legal system. What most don’t understand is that, on a day-to-day basis, securing these rights is often the difference between a successful or disastrous daily experience for a student with special education needs, and can alter the course of their lives.
There are two key federal laws which govern the rights of children with disabilities to receive services and accommodations, and to be free from disability-based discrimination in our public schools: the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and “504” (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act).
As any parent of a child with a disability can tell you, these laws are the “thin blue line” between their child receiving anything like an appropriate education, and chaos. They know it. I know it. You know it. If it weren’t for these federal protections, children with disabilities would likely be denied entrance, let alone participation, in our public schools.
The federal agency which enforces the Civil Rights of students with disabilities in public schools is the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). The USDE is currently headed by Betsy DeVos, whose policies and practices have lead COPAA (the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) and other major national Civil Rights organizations to file suit TWICE in the last year for actions which blatantly serve to deprive children with disabilities of their Civil Rights. COPAA has never sued anyone, let alone the USDE, in its 20 year history. That should tell you something.
We have never in our careers working on behalf of children with disabilities been so fearful that we could go back to a time when children with disabilities have no rights. It’s more possible than you think. It’s been painful enough to have to tell our clients over the last two years, many of whom have strong, clear evidence of disability based discrimination against their child, that this is just not the time to pursue it, because of who has been appointed to oversee these vital governmental functions. Politics has always had some impact, but not like this. And we’re not even getting into the impact that national healthcare has on children with disabilities and their families.
If you think how you vote doesn’t impact your child with a disability, you are mistaken. If you have never been a “one-issue voter,” but this issue is important to you, we ask you to consider your vote be Democratic.
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