What Is the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?

Betsy DeVos‘ hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions raised quite a few eyebrows, as the candidate for Secretary of Education appears to be unfamiliar with many components of the education system.

One exchange in particular stuck out — and no, it wasn’t the one about bears. Rather, it was the moment when Senator Tim Kaine pressed DeVos on the issue of disabled students in U.S. schools. DeVos soon revealed that she wasn’t familiar with the laws surrounding education rights for disabled people, nor was she convinced that disabled children should have equal access to education.

When Kaine asked if schools receiving federal funding should be required to provide education to disabled students, DeVos replied that this was a matter best left to the states.

This isn’t just in contradiction of federal law — more on that in a moment — but it also devalues the lives of disabled students, suggesting that they aren’t worthy of education.

The right to a free public education is an enshrined value in American life, designed to ensure that everyone has access to the same advantages. Historically, DeVos has supported private schools, and her comments about public education during the hearing certainly suggested that her opinion hasn’t changed.

Many disabled children, however, rely heavily on accessing education through public schools, which are barred from discrimination under several federal laws.

One of the most important is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which Senator Kaine referenced in his questions. You may also have heard it come up in the context of Senator Jeff Sessions, who has gone on record opposing the legislation. But unless you’re disabled or have disabled kids in school, you might not know much about the law.

IDEA specifically mandates that schools provide accommodations to disabled children, including screening children for learning disabilities and developing student-appropriate interventions to support…

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