Although the U.S. Department of Education recently rescinded 72 documents that protect the rights of disabled students, two special education teachers say Palo Alto High School is expected to continue to protect and expand those rights.

The documents the Department of Education rescinded on Oct. 21 provided guidance and details on rules and regulations schools must follow in order to ensure students with special needs are given an appropriate education. For example, one of the documents the department rescinded clarified how federal funds can be used for special education.

Though the rules and regulations the documents outlined are still enforced and the Department of Education claims the change will not have a negative impact on special education students, some people are concerned that without the documents to provide clear guidance, it may be more difficult to adhere to these rules. Ultimately, the fear is that this will result in special education students being deprived of their right to an appropriate education.

“My understanding of these 72 rescinded documents [is that they] don’t necessarily change the law, but could create more confusion about how special education law is intended to be enforced,” said Laura Bricca, a Paly special education teacher and instructional leader for special education. “I think our attorneys are likely going to be more challenged with having to interpret the law because these documents provided explanations about how different laws are intended to be implemented.”

Lindsay E. Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, also opposes the retraction of the documents due to her concerns about potential negative effects on the education of special needs children. According to The Washington Post, she said the documents were important because they helped schools and parents understand the law.

Jones said many disability rights groups and education advocates pushed for the documents to remain in place during a hearing in which the department asked for comments on the possible changes. Nevertheless, the rollback of the documents still occurred.

However, despite concerns about policy on the national level, Paly special education teacher, case manager and education specialist Chris Geren said he is confident this action will not have a negative impact on the Paly campus.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact anything [at Paly]. If anything, people here want more inclusion and more access to everything. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a more inclusive place, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we do the best we can to accept each other and each other’s differences.”

Chris Geren, Paly special education teacher

Bricca also doesn’t expect the rollback of the documents to have a negative impact on Paly. However, she is concerned about the effect of this action on a national level.

“I think that here in Palo Alto, I would like to hope that it doesn’t change anything for our students,” Bricca said. “But on a national level, it could absolutely create detriment to protecting the rights of students with disabilities, particularly in schools and in districts that are bogged down by many different mandates and are struggling to meet compliance expectations in a variety of areas due to understaffing and limited resources.”

Geren is also worried about the potential negative impact of this action nationally. One of Geren’s main concerns is that the only explanation that the Education Department provided as to why the documents were rescinded is that they were “outdated, unnecessary or ineffective,” according to The Washington Post.

Geren said because many of the documents being rescinded are only from the 2000s and the push for the rights of people with disabilities is still recent, the documents should not be considered “outdated.”

“It’s concerning that all of these things would be rescinded because they’re relatively new in historical reference; 1990 isn’t that long ago. Some of [the documents] were written in 2005, the newest one looks like 2014. One that they’re calling outdated was from 2010, and these weren’t that long ago, so to say that these are outdated is concerning to me.”

Chris Geren

Geren’s mention of 1990 is a reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed in 1990 after the Capitol Crawl protest pressured the government to acknowledge the rights of people with disabilities. During the Capitol Crawl protest, people with disabilities crawled up the stairs of the Capitol building, protesting the unequal access to the building the stairs presented.

“The ADA of 1990 basically put into law that people with wheelchairs and other disabilities had to have the same access to buildings as everyone else,” Geren said. “Before the ADA, people with wheelchairs in our country didn’t have access to the Capitol building. For me, 1990 is not that long ago … Wheelchair ramps have only been a necessity for 27 years of our country’s history.”

Geren points out the ADA of 1990 puts into perspective how recently the nation began moving towards recognizing the rights of people with disabilities. The push to grant equal access to those with disabilities took off with the ADA in 1990. To have the Education Department pulling back on documents that protect the rights of those with disabilities because they are “outdated” is concerning, according to Geren.

Geren’s take-away is that on the whole, the nation has only just begun to recognize the rights of people with disabilities. To begin to rescind documents protecting the rights of special education students is a set-back in the progression of granting equal rights for all.

“The bottom line is that to me, globally, we are behind in providing accessibility for people with disabilities, as a human race,” Geren said. “Our country is one of the leading nations in the world of providing accessibility to people with disabilities, and it’s concerning to me that we would be cutting that back, because in my opinion we need more of that in general, nationwide.”

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