2017: The Year in Review for Special Education
Happy New Year everyone! Looking back, Special Education has been in the news a lot over the past twelve months; particularly here in Texas. Unfortunately, most of the news has not been good. On the bright side, public awareness of the challenges facing students with disabilities and their families is at an all-time high. Hopefully, this will drive positive systemic change in the coming year which will lead to brighter futures for all of our kids.
In the meantime, here are 12 news articles (one from each month) highlighting the good, the bad and the ugly happenings in Special Education from 2017:
January 19, 2017 "Expecting spike in special ed students, advocates push for better services" by Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune - Here in Texas, Special Education advocates like myself came in to 2017 with high energy and high expectations for the upcoming legislative session. In the wake of the 8.5% cap fiasco exposed in the "Denied" series of articles published in the Houston Chronicle in late 2016, legislators had introduced more bills aimed at improving special education than ever before. Disappointingly, very few of those bills actually ended up passing this session.
February 7, 2017 "Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie" by Emmarie Huetteman & Yamiche Alcindor, The New York Times - Given the "confusion" regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) demonstrated by Ms. DeVos during the Senate confirmation hearings, the news of her ultimate confirmation did not bode well for those receiving special education services in public schools. Neither did the fact that the Federal IDEA website suddenly went dark the very next day!
March 23, 2017 "How a New Supreme Court Ruling Could Affect Special Education" by Laura McKenna, The Atlantic - The unanimous SCOTUS decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District marked the high point of the year. The Court rejected the "merely more than de minimis" standard of progress used in several areas across the country in determining whether a child has been provided a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under IDEA ruling a child's “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” adding that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”
April 13, 2017 "Falling through the cracks: Military families say their special-needs children are especially vulnerable" by Dianna Cahn, Stars and Stripes - This story placed a much-needed spotlight on the unique challenges faced by military families with special needs children.
May 12, 2017 "Texas Lawmakers Send Ban On Special Ed Cap To Governor" by Laura Isensee Houston Public Media - One of the few pieces of legislation affecting special education to pass this session, SB 160 made it illegal to place a cap on the number of students receiving special education services in Texas; a practice that was never actually legal in the first place.
June 8, 2017 "Lawsuit: Washington Failing to Teach Special-Ed Students" by Gene Johnson, Associated Press - The suit filed by the Washington chapter of the ACLU accuses the state of of failing to ensure students with behavioral disabilities receive an education. Such students are expelled and suspended at more than twice the rate of other students. Washington is far from the only state guilty of this practice. This school-to-prison pipeline stretches across the country.
July 18, 2017 "The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education" by Valerie Strauss The Washington Post - The speech, delivered six months after her confirmation hearing, included a statement that DeVos was reinstating equal treatment for IDEA cases by the Office for Civil Rights. Sadly, the OCR does not handle IDEA cases. Never has. Also included was the following, "We should celebrate the fact that unlike some countries in the world, the United States makes promises that we will never send any student away from our schools. Our commitment is to educate every student. Period." Ironically, it is public schools that are required to uphold that promise and commitment not schools of choice like charter or private schools.
August 15, 2017 "'Disappointed' House accepts Senate's changes to school finance bill" by Aliyya Swaby The Texas Tribune - The School Finance Bill, funded by deferring payments to health care companies that provide services to Medicaid recipients including many children with disabilities, did include $40 million in funding for dyslexia and autism programs.
September 15, 2017 "Harvey an additional obstacle for Texas students with disabilities" by Julie Chang Austin-American Statesman - Texans for Special Education Reform (TxSER) and Disability Rights Texas stepped up to assist families of students with disabilities displaced by Harvey in securing necessary services.
October 21, 2017 "DeVos rescinds 72 guidance documents outlining rights for disabled students" by Moriah Balingit The Washington Post - Though the number of documents eliminated was alarming, the vast majority were either outdated or redundant.
November 25, 2017 "Texas Education Agency back in the headlines over special education firing" by Aliyya Swaby The Texas Tribune - I'm not sure which is more troubling: TEA's shoddy vetting process for the Director of SPED which, according to them, did not uncover previously existing allegations she covered up abuse of children with disabilities or their shady contract practices in awarding a no-bid contract for millions of dollars in Federal Special Education funds to a company with no demonstrated work history.
December 29, 2017 "Questions continue over canceled special education contract" by Alejandra Matos Houston Chronicle - I was kidding. It's definitely the shady contract practices. As a member of the steering committee for TxSER, I am proud of the part we played in bringing this contract to an end. Bottom of Form