Before 1961, the United States did not publicly educate any children with any disabilities. If a child had cognitive or emotional disabilities, deafness, blindness or needed speech therapy, parents had to educate their children at home or pay for private education. In 1975, the US voted to ensure that all children, regardless of their differences, should have access to free public school education. This was the start of “special education” in America’s schools. INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT (IDEA). Approximately 7 million students with disabilities ages 3-21 are served under IDEA. Students with disabilities comprise 14% of all public school students. IDEA requires schools to provide appropriate education to all students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. This means, for example, it is illegal to separate children in wheelchairs from children who do not require such assistance. WHAT IS SPECIAL EDUCATION? Special education is specially designed instruction that addresses the unique needs of a student eligible to receive special education services. Services are provided in accordance with a school-developed Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Examples of special education services include speech-language, learning disabilities instruction, and audiology. In addition, accommodations like additional time for assignments or audio books; or services - such as an adult aide or picture schedule, might be provided to the student. SOME SCHOOLS ENDED THE YEAR EARLY - DEEMED REMOTE LEARNING TOO TOUGH. Georgia, Texas, and other states waived the minimum instruction time requirements during the pandemic. As states opened the gates to the earliest summer vacation in a century, they concurrently closed the book on IDEA-mandated special education services and braced for unrelenting litigation from parents of students with disabilities. BETSY DEVOS STANCE ON IDEA. In April, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos denied requests to give school districts the option to bypass major parts of IDEA. Devos’ decision leaves questions about compliance and whether school districts will become vulnerable to legal action if they fail to fully serve students with disabilities, now that nearly every state has ordered or recommended that school buildings remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Students with disabilities have lost access to specific types of support they received in school — whether that was a therapy that required an adult to physically touch a student or a one-on-one aide to help a student with math assignments. BARRIERS TO SUSTAINING SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES - TOO MUCH TO OVERCOME? (1) Cost: An unresolved matter surrounding special education has always been the cost. It is more costly to educate children with disabilities because they require more time and resources than students without disabilities and school funding is falling off a cliff. Schools will be forced to negotiate extreme austerity measures and consolidate services. (2) Staffing: Special education staff shortages are felt by all school districts. As schools make reductions, special education teachers, who often serve smaller caseloads than regular education teachers, will equally share the pain of attrition of reduction in force. (3) Inclusion. From a philosophical angle, the pandemic advances the narrative of including students with disabilities with non-disabled peers. (4) Social Distancing. Students with disabilities who are unable to wear masks or adhere to social distancing, including students with intellectual disabilities, early childhood students, or students with autism, will present significant challenges to schools. With touchy seclusion and restraint laws on the books, teachers won’t force students to wear masks against their will - even if the student doesn’t possess the cognitive functioning to understand the benefit of the mask. Students without masks will fatigue virus-mitigation protocols and could open up litigation by school staff, parents and even other students claiming that their health is placed at risk. CANADIAN SCHOOL’S DYSTOPIAN BACK TO SCHOOL VIDEO. Doc plays a “Welcome to your new school routine and rules during virus times” video a Canadian school shared with families this week. Kids must stay 6 feet apart, playground closed, gym closed, yikes! He notes that many US schools are prepping similar misguided, impractical protocols. FOLLOW DR. PERRODIN: Twitter @SafetyPhD and subscribe to The Safety Doc YouTube channel & Apple Podcasts. SAFETY DOC WEBSITE & BLOG: The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David P. Perrodin, PhD. ENDORSEMENTS. Opinions are those of the host & guests. The show seeks to bring forward productive discourse & debate on topics relevant to personal or institutional safety. This is episode 134 of The Safety Doc Podcast published on 5-10-2020.

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