Covid-19 stimulus: Helpful for everyone except those who need it most – students with disabilities

Students with disabilities—perhaps some of the most vulnerable individuals in the education system—could be disadvantaged in the new COVID-19 stimulus package because Congress provided Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos with the right to provide waivers from a law requiring equal educational quality for special education students. 

DeVos was provided the option to allow states to opt out of providing a just education to students with special needs in the coronavirus stimulus bill signed by President Trump at the end of March.

IDEA stands for the Individuals With Disabilities Act. emphasizes three key points. First, “IDEA is the nation’s special education law.” Second, “schools must find and evaluate students thought to have disabilities—at no cost to families.” Third, “having a diagnosis doesn’t guarantee that a child qualifies under IDEA. 

Passed in 1975 and originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, the act provides free appropriate public education to children with disabilities, and provides parents and legal guardians with a say in their children’s education. The act covers kids the day they are born until the day they graduate from high school or at 21, whichever is first. For a child to be eligible for IDEA, a student must have a disability, and because of such a disability requires special education to thrive and make progress in a school environment.

According to The Hill, a news website, approximately 7 million children “who traditionally receive specialized education are now learning from home, which makes managing their individualized education programs more difficult.”  Under IDEA,  schools that teach students with disabilities are mandated to give them an education comparable to that of their peers.

The requirement makes it possible to argue that  teaching children with disabilities is not feasible due to remote and distance learning as a result of schools being cancelled. Opting out of IDEA would give schools a backdoor to escape lawsuits and prevent allegations of unequal treatment.

Although in times of crisis people should have trust and faith in government, it does not mean the government knows what is best. A multitude of parents and special education advocates are concerned that the waivers will add to a worsened “new normal.” 

The Education Trust and other groups called the waiver unnecessary, commenting that a temporary disadvantage will be converted into a permanent learning loss, comparing it to opening a  Pandora’s box.

That’s putting it lightly. Students with disabilities need as much support as they can get, and a gap in learning makes it increasingly hard for them to progress. 

Legislation that provides individuals with special needs the right to an adequate education and all the support they need, no matter their socioeconomic status, should not even be up for question. The mere idea that the secretary of education would give schools this option for students will not only lead to their failure, but it cannot be compensated by any amount of money. Dignity, freedom, and justice is lost instead.