Thursday, February 16, 2017

BREAKING: Update on IDEA Website

Today I was interviewed by Emma Brown, the Washington Post reporter who covered the missing Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website last week. She told me what she's heard from the department, and I told her what I'm hearing from parents.

From her article, "Education Department's Special-Ed Has Been Down for More Than a Week, and Parents are Not Happy":
"There's been no estimate of when it'll be restored, no explanation of why it's not there," said Mark Miller, who blogs about special-education issues and is a Montgomery County, Md., parent of a child with special needs. "It makes people feel like we're not important and our children are not important. Their communication has been very poor and is contributing to the perception that this is not a priority for the secretary."

The article was posted online at 5:21pm today, and at some point the website reappeared, pretty much in the same form it was before -- idea.ed.gov. Which is odd considering what a department official told Brown:

  • "The site has been troubled by technical glitches and IT experts are not comfortable restoring the site at this point because its server remains unstable and could crash at any time." When did they change their mind, and is the site still unstable?
  • "Everything that was available on the website is available elsewhere on the main Education Department site." The official either lied or was misinformed. This simply was not true.
This isn't just about a website. When it comes time for this administration to recommend policy affecting children with disabilities, remember that the department's first actions regarding special education were to:
  • Announce on Twitter that a "technical glitch" had removed special-education information from the department's website (only after this has been pointed out by numerous concerned families).
  • Ignore phone calls, emails, and other inquiries from teachers, parents, and senators.
  • Not post any follow-up information for a week (and they still haven't).
  • State that the website could not be restored because it was not stable.
  • Falsely claim the information was available somewhere else on the education department's website.
  • Restore the website after allowing the issue to blow up due to a lack of honesty and transparency.
In related news, yesterday Secretary DeVos launched her official Twitter account, @BetsyDevosED. Which is appropriate, because in only her second week, I already feel like I've been #BetsyDevosed.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Betsy DeVos, You've Got Mail. Pressure to Restore IDEA Website Intensifies as Senators Demand Accountability


Thanks to activists and concerned citizens like you, Secretary Betsy DeVos is feeling real pressure to restore the IDEA website. This movement started with phone calls, tweets, and emails from people like you and me, and now two senators have raised the stakes. In a letter to Secretary DeVos on Friday, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell demanded an explanation and a plan to restore the information. Read the letter below and then take a minute to thank Senators Murray and Cantwell for their support on this important issue. Twitter: @SenatorCantwell and @PattyMurray. Facebook: Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell. Here's the letter:

During your [confirmation] hearing...your statements regarding the landmark Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) raised concerns among children with disabilities and their parents about your the the Trump administration's view on special education and the rights of these families and students. We expect you and the Trump administration to fulfill your commitment to all students, including students with disabilities.

To that end, we are deeply concerned that prior to your confirmation and arrival at the department, the centralized resource website for IDEA (http://www.idea.ed.gov) became inaccessible to the public for more than a week, and is now redirecting people to a site for the Office of Special Education. The OSEP website lacks much of the information previously available.

The department's failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators, and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities. For more than a decade, this website, which was released by President George W. Bush's Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, has served as a one-stop shop for resources related to IDEA and its regulations. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has consistently updated this website as Congress has enacted new legislation and the courts have interpreted the law....

...We are seeking a detailed explanation for the disappearance ofthese centralized resources, and the plan to restore this critical information. We request you provide our staff with the following information:
1)  Your assurance that this website will not be stripped down in any way during your tenure.
2)  A detailed timeline of when the centralized resources previously available at www.idea.ed.gov became inaccessible to public view and all subsequent steps that were taken to restore these resources as well as all steps taken to provide the public with more limited information from third party sites or other areas ofthe Department website.
3)  To the extent there are (or were) technical problems that led to the removal of the centralized resources, please provide a technical report on the issue, how it was resolved and/or when it is expected to be resolved if the issue was limited to this specific part of the Department's website, and if so why.
4)  A detailed plan for restoring the information previously available including all previously available resources for students, parents, schools, districts, state governments, researchers, and policy makers containing information about their rights under IDEA, information about the law and regulations to facilitate high degrees of compliance, model forms, presentations pertaining to IDEA, materials for training, and guidance documents relating to IDEA.
5)  The date by which all information previously available at www.idea.ed.gov will again be accessible to the public at a central location.
6)  A detailed plan for how parents will be informed of the problems with the website and what has been done to address the problems, to ensure that nobody who went to the website in recent days will be discouraged from accessing this information in the future.
7)  A detailed description of any content from the website that was modified by the Department during the period oftime the website was removed from the public domain. For each change, a detailed explanation for the modification.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.


Welcome to the working world, Betsy. This is called accountability.

Medicaid Cuts a "Prescription to Hurt the Neediest Kids"

Proposed cuts to Medicaid will significantly harm students with disabilities, according to a national survey of school superintendents. A plan that Republican leaders are pushing would reduce Medicaid spending by 25 percent by distributing Medicaid funding through a block grant or a per-capita cap, shifting costs to states. It's estimated that these cuts would actually be 30 to 35 percent when combined with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Under Medicaid, schools are eligible to receive funding for medically necessary services for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This revenue helps cover the costs of nurses, therapists, and others that provide services for children with disabilities and health services for students living in poverty.

School leaders surveyed by AASA, the School Superintendents Association, said a 30 percent cut to Medicaid would disproportionately affect children with disabilities. Survey respondents (school superintendents and assistant superintendents, school business officials, and special education directors) anticipate the following consequences:

  • Schools would need to reduce services and support for students with disabilities.
  • Schools would be less able to provide qualified therapists (physical, occupational, and speech).
  • Many schools will struggle to comply with the requirements of the IDEA, which is already "woefully underfunded."
  • Health services for children with chronic conditions would be reduced.
  • The inability of families to access regular check-ins, immunizations, and screenings for vision, dental, and hearing would increase absenteeism and interfere with their children's ability to learn. 

Read the report.

It's important to note that cuts to Medicaid would impact all children, not just those who are low-income or in special education. As one respondent said, "Without Medicaid funds, we would be forced to cut services to the majority of our students to make up for the special education mandates, which are mostly underfunded or not funded at all." That would mean larger class sizes, tighter budgets for salaries and programs, and cuts to important support like guidance counselors and mental health services. It would also be difficult to attract and retain high-quality educators and administrators.

The report concludes:
"School leaders are deeply concerned by the impact a block grant would have on districts’ ability to deliver critical special education supports and health services to students. We urge mem- bers of Congress to weigh how children will be impacted by a Medicaid block grant and to reach out to school leaders for speci c insights about the importance of their school-based Medicaid programs for students."

Read "School District Chiefs: Proposed Medicaid Changes Would Hurt Poor Children and Students with Disabilities" from the Washington Post.

Read the report, "Cutting Medicaid: A Prescription to Hurt the Neediest Kids."







Thursday, February 9, 2017

More on the IDEA Website: What's There (not much), What's Not (a lot)

The Department of Education took a baby step in restoring information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but many resources that families depend on are missing. Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I took a close look at what was there as recently as Jan. 18 and the lightweight page idea.ed.gov links to now.

Here's a before and after. On the left is what the IDEA microsite used to look like. On the right is the page idea.ed.gov now redirects to -- just a subpage for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services:

What the homepage of idea.ed.gov looked like on Jan. 18:

From this page, you can choose between IDEA Part B (which applies to ages 3-21) or IDEA Part C (birth to age 2). Here's what the Part B page looked like on Jan. 18:

So basically, the Education Department has this information available:
  • The text of the IDEA statute.
  • The text of the IDEA Part B regulations
  • The text of the IDEA Part C regulations
  • Memos and policy letters from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
  • Training resources for state and local agencies
I should also mention that the department's Office of Civil Rights still has this page live, describing the civil rights of students under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

All of the other information and resources for parents, teachers, and school districts is not available, including disproportionality, early intervention, evaluation, funding, how to detect specific learning disabilities, monitoring and enforcement, private schools. and secondary transition. It's missing training materials, model forms, video clips, presentations, and Q&A documents, and more.

The ball's in your court (still), Department of Education. Do you care enough about IDEA and the families and teachers who need this information to fix your technical glitch?

Who will join me in calling the secretary's office at 202-401-3000 every day until this is resolved? Also, tweet to @usedgov, @ED_Spec_Rehab, and @EDCivilRights.



IDEA Website is Back (sort of); Dept. of Education "Functioning Under the Same Laws"

"Please know that OSEP is here, functioning under the same laws, and happy to answer calls and emails about our work whenever possible."
On Thursday night, I left a voicemail for many offices at the Department of Education. This morning,  one replied -- the Office of Special Education Programs. Here are highlights of our email conversation:

OSEP:
I'm reaching out to you in response to your phone call to our office—the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. I just wanted to let you know that we are working with our tech folks to get IDEA.ed.gov up and running as soon as possible, and that we are incredibly sorry for all of the inconvenience the glitch has caused. I completely understand what a blow not having this excellent resource is—our staff use it all the time as well! In the meantime, please use the site below to access the regulations and other resources on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/osep-idea.html

Me: 
I know that you and other employees are working hard to continue the important mission of the Department of Education, and in your case, special education. 

As you can imagine, families like mine are concerned about the impact of the new administration on special education. Having the IDEA website go down during this time raises a lot of concerns - as if the department did this intentionally. I know that technical glitches happen, and I think it's important for the department to announce that the site is live and that the department continues to support students with disabilities and the principles of the IDEA.

Is there anything I can tell my concerned friends about the department's commitment in this area?

OSEP:
Thank you for your understanding! We are working on providing updates on these technical difficulties, and notifying the public of this new temporary page that the idea.ed.gov domain now redirects to.

Please know that OSEP is here, functioning under the same laws, and happy to answer calls and emails about our work whenever possible.

Thanks for helping us spread the word on the website!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The IDEA Website Down: Tell the Education Department You Care (UPDATED)


This morning, when Betsy DeVos started her job as Secretary of Education, many people noticed that an entire section of the department's website was missing -- the part about that pesky Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). During her confirmation hearing, Secretary DeVos expressed a lack of understanding about the federal act that protects the rights of students with disabilities -- and even expressed an opinion that the states should decide what rights children should have.

So you can imagine that even with the official explanation from the department, people are skeptical that this was a mere coincidence, since the majority of the website remains intact and online. Is this an attack on special education, or a technical glitch that will soon be resolved? Neither would surprise me.

What You Can Do:

This is a great opportunity to show the leadership and staff at the Department of Education that parents and advocates are paying attention. We have to be a squeaky wheel, and a broken website is a big deal.

1. Tweet to @usedgov and ask when the idea.ed.gov site will be available.

2. Keep checking, and let me know when it's back. The actual URL is https://www2.ed.gov/not_home-IDEA.html. Tweet to me at @mmiller20910.

3. Call the department and tell the staff you want and need this information. Here are a few numbers:
  • Department of Education, 1-800-872-5327
  • Office of the Secretary, 202-401-3000
  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 202-245-7459 (#9 for director) or 202-245-6496
  • Office of Civil Rights, 800-421-3481, OCR@ed.gov
  • Office of the Chief Information Officer, 202-245-6640
Please keep in mind that you will probably reach a non-political staff member. Be polite, but let them know that you are concerned about this, and ask for a specific estimate for when the website will be restored. I've seen firsthand that this is how website issues get fixed -- we need lots of people going to their bosses saying people are asking and/or complaining. If this is truly a technical glitch, it will be easy to fix. If it's not restored soon, that will be a sign of worse things to come.

UPDATE (Feb. 9, 7:30am): I left a voicemail at each of these numbers last night. Today , the voicemail for the Office of the Secretary says, "Sorry, Office of the Secretary is not available. You cannot record a message for Office of the Secretary. This mailbox is full."

Chief Information Officer: "The number you have reached is not in service. This is a recording."

While we still need to call attention to this problem, which is denying families information they need, there IS some IDEA information on the education website at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/osep/osep-idea.html. This does not replace the need to restore idea.ed.gov, but share this with people who need information immediately.

UPDATE TO UPDATE (Feb. 9, 9:00am): The website appears to have been restored. Someone noticed that the blog link doesn't work. Are there other differences? idea.ed.gov













Tuesday, February 7, 2017

She's Your Education Secretary. Now What?

Reposting a message from my Facebook page. Now the work begins.

I'm seeing so many friends expressing surprise/shock that the Senate has confirmed Betsy DeVos as the most unqualified education secretary of all time. I'm not shocked, and I want to tell you why.
"We" - American voters - elected a president who surrounds himself with loyal billionaires. And we've collectively elected a Republican-majority House and Senate, and we're living with the consequences. The Republicans have all the leverage, and (sorry) hearing from constituents isn't as powerful as pressure from the White House and their party's leadership. Money and power > public opinion.
Why would Republican senators who understand and support public education support this nominee? Many reasons:
  1. It's in their own personal interest. Breaking with the party could harm their careers, and going with the majority can be good for them. (Kudos to Senators Collins and Murkowski, but it will be interesting to see how they pay for this vote. And those Republican senators who were supposedly undecided? They were playing a game, just holding out for an incentive to keep them in line. If they went by what they heard from their constituents, they would have voted differently.)
  2. Many Republicans like Senators McCain and Graham have signaled their willingness to challenge President Trump on some big issues. But they have to pick their battles, and the truth is that public education isn't as important to them as Russian interference with our elections and other international issues.
  3. Even more sadly, education just isn't a top issue with everything else going on. During the campaign, it was barely mentioned by any candidate. Clearly, there are few Republicans are willing to fall on their sword over public education.

So now what? Parents, teachers, and others need to pressure our now-Secretary of Education to do the right thing for ALL students. Many of my friends are personally affected by special education. Keep up the pressure, and intensify it. Get over Secretary DeVos's incompetent performance in her confirmation hearings. Get over the fact that she got this job because of her wealth and political donations. Let her know she and her appointees will hear from you on every decision that affects you and your children.
More important, remember how you're feeling today and apply that passion to the mid-term elections. Hold your elected officials accountable, and work to kick them out of office if you think that's what's needed. To make real change, and to prevent further damage, we need checks and balances, and a Democratic majority is in our grasp.
This was a losing effort, but be encouraged by the passion and unity it inspired. Don't give up.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Opposition Grows on DeVos Nomination: Add Your Voice!

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education on Tuesday. Senator Franken is saying he won't vote for her, and neither will any of his Democratic colleagues. The question is whether any Republicans are willing to break from party lines to do the right thing and reject one of the least qualified Cabinet nominees in recent history.







Talking to Rachel Maddow last night, Sen. Franken said, “You talk about DeVos. She is someone that there’s not going to be one Democratic vote for her, and we’re trying to find Republicans who will vote against her because she’s an ideologue who knows next to nothing about education policy as we demonstrated, or she demonstrated really, in her confirmation hearing.”

More than a million people have signed petitions against her nomination, and tens of thousands of people have contacted senators to express their opposition. In addition, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities sent a letter to the committee with a list of questions they want Ms. DeVos to answer before being confirmed, especially since she seems to either not understand or not support the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the most important legislation protecting the rights of 6.5 million students with disabilities. The letter concludes:

"A committee vote on Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education should be delayed until Mrs. DeVos has fully answered the above questions, and allows Committee members the opportunity to fully understand how she plans to ensure that students with disabilities receive a quality education with their peers as required by federal statute."


People like you can make a difference. Call 202-225-3121 and tell your representative and senators that you oppose Betsy DeVos, and why.





Tuesday, January 24, 2017

LA Times: "Betsy DeVos Embarrassed Herself and Should Be Rejected by the Senate"


In a strongly worded editorial, the Los Angeles Times says Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education "doesn't meet the basic qualifications for the post." Stating that her support of school vouchers and her lack of experience in public schools do not disqualify her, "what did render her unacceptable was her abysmal performance at her confirmation hearing, during which she displayed an astonishing ignorance about basic education issues, an extraordinary lack of thoughtfulness about ongoing debates in the field, and an unwillingness to respond to important questions."

It goes on to say, "She was so unprepared that she sounded like a schoolchild who hadn't done her homework. She frankly embarrassed herself and should be rejected by the Senate. Better yet, President-elect Donald Trump should withdraw her name and find someone who at least meets the basic qualifications for the post."

If you agree, what can you do about it? Sign this petition TODAY: "Tell Senate Democrats: Block and resist Betsy DeVos's confirmation as secretary of education."




Monday, January 23, 2017

Betsy DeVos "Unqualified, Unprepared, and Unfit" for Department of Education

Diane Ravitch
Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee to head the U.S. Department of Education, is facing strong opposition from elected officials, education advocates, parents, and others because of her lack of experience in and understanding of public schools. The vote, originally scheduled for tomorrow, will be held Jan. 31. That gives you more time to add your voice in opposition. Sign this petition TODAY: "Tell Senate Democrats: Block and resist Betsy DeVos's confirmation as secretary of education."

Diane Ravitch, a respected education professor who held senior roles in the Department of Education in both Republican and Democratic administrations, is no fan of DeVos. In an open letter to her former boss, Senator Lamar Alexander, who now chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, she said DeVos would be "the first Secretary of Education in our history to be hostile to public education."

She writes, "Now you are in a position of selecting a new Secretary of Education. I watched the hearings, and it was evident to all but the most extreme partisans that Ms. DeVos is unqualified, unprepared, and unfit for the responsibility of running this important agency.....Her lack of experience leaves her ill-equipped to address the needs of the vast majority of American schools....At least 85 percent of American school children attend public schools. She has no ideas about how to improve public schools. Her only idea is that students should enroll in non-public schools."

She also cites statistics showing that DeVos's influence on Michigan schools is hardly a model for our nation. After embracing her approach to school choice, Michigan has gone from 28th to 41st in fourth-grade reading and dropped from 27th to 42nd in fourth-grade math. Eighty percent of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit companies, who make more than $1 billion a year, operate without accountability or transparency, and do not show better results than public schools.






President Trump Reveals Disability Agenda

Sorry for the clickbait headline, but here's the current disability page on whitehouse.gov. The URL for this page was https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/disabilities.

You'll see the same blank page if you look for the link to contact the Disability Issues Outreach Team or the fact sheet on expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. President Trump's campaign had no position on its website, and now his administration has removed all references to disability policy and rights on the official White House website.

Read "Trump White House Takes Down Website Pages About Disabilities."

Please contact me if you see any disability information added to the White House website. I will gladly share it with others. In the meantime, you can recall the many ways that President Obama supported people with disabilities on this archived page -- obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/issues/disabilities. And don't tell anyone at the White House, but disability.gov is alive and well -- full of helpful information about benefits, civil rights, education, jobs, health, housing, and more.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Just When I Thought I Was Out, They Pull Me Back In

Sometimes it's exhausting following and reporting on disability policy. There are so many setbacks and so many uphill battles. But ever since I started this blog in 2008, I've kept doing it because there are so few outlets for this kind of advocacy.

After Trump was elected, I didn't expect to like any of his Cabinet nominees. But how could I have predicted what an absolute disaster Betsy DeVos would be for all students, including those with special needs? Support vouchers and Christian education all you want, but after carefully preparing for your confirmation hearing, you really don't know about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? These protections should be "left to the states"?

Assuming Ms. DeVos is confirmed (as the least qualified Education Secretary in our history), I'm going to need to keep this blog going and advocate in many other ways. Which makes me think of this quote from the otherwise terrible "Godfather III."




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nominee for Secretary of Education "Confused" about Federal Protections for Students with Disabilities

In a field of unqualified Cabinet nominees, Betsy DeVos may be the most terrifying for families who have children with disabilities. I knew that Ms. DeVos had never attended a public school or sent her own children to a public school, but her exchanges in her confirmation hearings were downright scary.

Read "Betsy DeVos Apparently 'Confused About Federal Law Protecting Students with Disabilities" from the Washington Post and watch "6 head-scratching moments" from her confirmation hearing:




Disability Advocates React to Potential Secretary of Education: It Ain't Pretty

Tonight I went on Twitter and asked for any organization or parent who cares about special education to tell me why they support Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education. I'm reading all the reactions I can find, and let's just say it's not exactly a balanced debate. The consensus: She's unqualified, has no history of supporting public education, and at best is "confused" about the rights of students with disabilities. Here's a small sampling:

Charles P. Fox, a Chicago attorney who has a child with special needs and writes the insightful "Special Education Law Blog," was way out ahead of this issue, blogging back on Dec. 7 about "Defending Public Education under Secretary of Education DeVos." About special education, he notes that while charter schools must adhere to federal laws including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office noted that "federal intervention is needed to ensure that students with disabilities are able to access their free appropriate public education in charter schools." He predicted we'd be reading a lot more about this nominee, and he was right.

Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project:
"She kept repeating that it's a matter for the states when this is a federal act. This is pretty basic knowledge that any educational professional should have."

Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH):
"Not only did Mrs. DeVos decline to commit to enforcing IDEA, but she said she was confused about whether it's a federal law. The fact that a nominee to lead the Department of Education seemed unfamiliar with the federal law to protect students with disabilities -- a law that she would have a major responsibility in enforcing -- is unacceptable."

American Association of People with Disabilities:
We are "very concerned that Ms. DeVos seems unfamiliar with the IDEA and the protections it provides to students with disabilities. Should Ms. DeVos be confirmed as Secretary of Education, she must become more familiar with the law and commit to ensuring that it is fully funded and enforced."

Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA):
“The fact that she doesn’t understand the basics about federal education law is just appalling. It was pretty clear to us that she is not, and never has been, an advocate for students with disabilities. We are alarmingly concerned."

Lindsay Jones, National Center for Learning Disabilities:
“Parents of children with disabilities want the next U.S. secretary of education to uphold the federal rights, protections and opportunities provided by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Anything less is a disservice to America’s 6 million students with disabilities. It is clear we have more to learn about where Ms. DeVos stands on this topic and how she will ensure our children are protected.”










"My Daughter with Autism Relies on Public Education, and I'm Terrified for the Future"

"I Have a Special-Needs Son, and Betsy DeVos Scares Me to Death"

Education Secretary Nominee on Special Education Rights (with full video)

Yesterday, we were introduced to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education. In her hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, she seemed unaware that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is 1) a federal law and that 2) it protects the rights of all students in schools that accept federal funding. When asked by Senator Tim Kaine if all K-12 schools should be required to meet the requirements of the IDEA, she responded, "I think that is a matter better left to the states."

When Senator Maggie Hassan, who has a son with special needs, expressed concern that Ms. DeVos seemed unfamiliar with the federal legislation passed in 1990, Ms. DeVos said she'd be "sensitive" to the needs of special needs students. Senator Hassan replied: "With all due respect, it is not about sensitivity, although that helps. It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality public education. And the reality is, the way the voucher systems that you supported work don’t always come out that way."
Here's the full hearing:



Sen. Kaine: Let me move to my next question. Should all K-12 schools receiving governmental funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Ms. DeVos: I think they already are.
Sen. Kaine: But I’m asking you a should question. Whether they are or not we’ll get into that later. Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Ms. DeVos: I think that is a matter better left to the states.
Sen. Kaine: So some states might be good to students with disabilities, other state might not be so good, and then what? People can move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?
Ms. DeVos: I think that is an issue best left to the states.
Sen. Kaine: What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding, should they be required to follow federal law? Whether they’re public, public charter, or private?
Ms. DeVos: As the Senator referred to – the Florida program, there are many parents who are happy with the program there.
Sen. Kaine: Let me say this, I think all schools that receive federal funding, public charter, or public, should be required to follow the individuals with disabilities and education act. Do you agree with me?
Ms. DeVos: I think that is worth a discussion.
Sen. Kaine: So you cannot agree with me. And finally, should all K-12 schools receiving government funding be required to report the same information in instances of harassment and bullying? If they receive federal funding.
Ms. DeVos: I think that federal funding certainly comes with strings attached.
Sen. Kaine: I think all such schools should be required to report, equally, information about discipline, harassment, and bullying. Do you agree with me or not?
Ms. DeVos: I would look forward to reviewing that provision.
Sen. Kaine: If it was a court I would say let the judges direct the witness to answer the question. It’s not a court, you’re not under oath, not under subpoena, but you are trying to win my vote.


Sen. Hassan: The other thing I just wanted to circle back to – I want to go back to the individuals with disabilities and education act. That’s a federal civil rights law. So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?
Ms. DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.
Sen. Hassan: So were you unaware when i just asked you about the idea that it is a federal law?Ms. DeVos: I may have confused it.
Sen. Hassan: It guarantees absolutely basic protections to students with disabilities to ensure they are given a high-quality education with their peers. One reason it is difficult to have this hearing and feel that we fully understand your perspective is because we do know that children with disabilities – at least in some of the voucher programs that you have supported – have gone with a voucher to their school because of their disability, they have to leave the school, the school keeps the money, and they go back to public schools, that now have even less resources for them. Many of us see this as the potential for turning our public schools into warehouses for the most challenging kids with disabilities, or the kids whose parents cannot afford to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of private school tuition. I would urge you to become familiar, should you be nominated, with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And I do have to say I’m concerned that you seem so unfamiliar with it, and that you seem to support vouchers schools that have not honored, that have made students sign away their rights to make sure that that the law is enforced. That is very troubling to me.
Ms. DeVos: Senator I assure you, if confirmed, I will be very sensitive to the needs of special needs students and the policies surrounding that.
Sen. Hassan: With all due respect, it is not about sensitivity, although that helps. It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality public education. And the reality is, the way the voucher systems that you supported work don’t always come out that way. And that’s why it is something we need to continue to explore.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Trump Era: What It Means for People with Disabilities, and What You Can Do

If you or someone you know has a disability and are looking for encouraging words about the election of Donald Trump, you won't find it here. But it's important to evaluate the potential impact of a Trump presidency, understand how you can be involved, and how to move forward.

Where We Are Today

I started this blog in 2008 to advocate for people with disabilities during a presidential campaign that I knew would have a major impact. Looking back, there's no doubt that our choice of President Obama led to eight years of progress. Here are just a few examples:

  • Health care reform that provided coverage for millions of people, prevented insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and removed lifetime caps on coverage.
  • Advocated for rights. The Obama Administration strongly advocated for the rights of all citizens. The Department of Justice and Department of Education issued a letter to schools telling them not to tolerate bullying -- including bullying against the 6.5 million students with disabilities.
  • Signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, pushing the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and other agencies to advance employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
  • Launched the "Curb Cuts to the Middle Class" initiative focused on hiring people with disabilities to prepare to qualify for jobs with federal contractors and giving those employers tools to recruit and promote them.
  • Signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century.

Many of my friends and/or Facebook friends have children with disabilities but don't appreciate the advances that have been made under President Obama. People complain about the health system, and there's certainly room for improvement, but if you have a child with a disability or chronic condition, you should cherish and fight to protect the Affordable Care Act. One way or another, changes will be made (and need to be made), but the fundamental principles -- 1) the right to health care, 2) the right to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and 3) the ban on lifetime caps -- must be preserved.

The Impact of a Trump Presidency

There is much fear and speculation about what Trump will do as president, but the first place to look is his stated priorities:

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Something the Republican-led Congress also wants to do.)
  • Reverse the expansion of Medicaid. About 10 million people on Medicaid have disabilities, representing 15 percent, and it covers not just health care, but home health aides and other critical services. If Trump repeals the ACA and turns Medicaid into a block grant program, as many as 30 million people could lose their insurance.

There is also concern that Trump will soften enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by shifting the priorities of the Department of Justice's civil rights division and other agencies. See "Disability Rights Advocates are Terrified of a Donald Trump White House" from the Huffington Post.

I don't have a crystal ball, but several patterns are emerging:

  • President-elect Trump, the "outsider," is filling his transition team with "insiders." Many of them come from the Heritage Foundation, which advocate for traditional conservative positions like cutting taxes on wealthy people and corporations, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and reforming Social Security and Medicaid in ways that would negatively affect families. If you wonder how much the Heritage Foundation cares about families like yours, consider that they strongly advocated AGAINST signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The people he is putting on his transition team gives you a good idea of the kind of people who he will appoint to his Cabinet. Remember, many experienced, admired Republican policy experts and government officials have distanced themselves from Trump, so he will have a hard time finding qualified people for many positions. Most will argue for less government "interference," which families like ours may call "protection" for those who most need it. For example, Ben Carson, who's been mentioned as a potential secretary of education or HHS, has said that disability issues can be better managed by "businesses, industry, Wall Street, churches, and community groups." I don't know about you, but I'm not counting on Wall Street to ensure my child's education rights and health care.
  • Trump's statements and behavior on the campaign trail have created more division than unity. Now that he's been elected, he's paying lip service to bringing America together, but everything he's said and done so far has had the opposite effect. His campaign has empowered bigots, racists, anti-Semites, and misogynists -- which is even more apparent now that he's been elected. Discrimination is likely to increase, and we can only hope that Trump will enforce existing laws and not weaken them. Let's just say that people with disabilities are not and will not be a high priority among his various constituencies.
What You Can Do

1. Advocate for People with Disabilities

Here are just a few organizations that will busy fighting for your rights, services, and programs in the next four years. Don't just visit these websites. Sign up for their newsletters, register for advocacy alerts, follow them on Facebook and Twitter. When issues come up, be ready to learn about them and take action.
2. Focus on Your Family and Loved Ones

The night Donald Trump was elected president, I was in the hospital with my daughter, during an almost two-week stay. I was disappointed -- devastated -- by the results, but it wasn't the most important thing to me at the time. Do what you can do for the people closest to you. Being a good parent, spouse, and caregiver is one of the most important things you can do, no matter what else is going on in the world. Love and support the people who need you, and take care of yourself.

3. Be Nice

This may seem trite, but as much as we complain about Trump's behavior, comments, and actions, all we can control is how we act ourselves. Set an example for your children, neighbors, and colleagues by treating people with respect, tolerating different views, and trying to understand where people are coming from. We are not as divided as much as a 50-50 election may suggest. Let's focus on what we have in common, what we can do for others, and fight for what we believe in.








"I'm a Disabled American. Trump's Policies Will Be a Disaster for People Like Me."

Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, is not encouraged by the prospects of a Trump presidency. Ne'eman, one of President Obama's appointees to the National Council on Disability from 2010 to 2015, says he was bothered by Trump's mocking of people with disabilities, but he has been more focused on policy.

He writes, "Hillary Clinton offered clear, specific, and timely policy proposals to expand the social safety net and civil rights of people with disabilities, while Trump made clear his intent to slash services and roll back legal protections. For the millions of Americans with disabilities who depend on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act to access the health care and public services that mean basic survival, it is policy -- not personal insult -- that has brought terror and despair in the aftermath of Trump's victory."

His concerns:

  • Trump plans to slash the main source of federal financing for disability and aging services.
  • Trump plans to eliminate critical legal protections for disabled people in the health care system.
  • Trump may be about to set back federal autism policy by at least a decade.

But there's hope:

  • Disability activists have faced down conservative attempts to roll back disability rights before -- and won.
  • The Trump presidency will be a disaster -- but even a disaster presents certain opportunities.

Read his detailed analysis at vox.com, "I'm a Disabled American. Trump's Policies Will Be a Disaster for People Like Me."


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Undecided: My Civil Discussion with a Confused Voter

I had a rare experience the other day -- a conversation with an undecided voter who was interested in hearing my thoughts. It was particularly interesting because she was a nurse helping to take care of my daughter during a scary stay at the hospital.

In a setting like that, I'm pretty good about not raising politics or forcing my views on anyone. But it was the day after the Cubs had won the World Series, and I mentioned that my Facebook friends seemed pretty excited about it, and it was a nice break from all the political chatter.

She said, "I know what you mean. Boy, what do you think about Hillary's emails? It sounds pretty bad." I told her that I think people are suggesting the "scandal" is worse than it is -- and that if Hillary had broken the law, she'd be prosecuted and convicted. She's not above the law and has never claimed to be.

But the nurse said she just doesn't know what to believe because there's so much bad stuff on both sides -- and many of her friends have told her some really negative things about Hillary. I asked innocently, "Would you like to hear what I think?" And here's what I said:

1. EXPERIENCE
While many people don't like Hillary, there's no doubt she's experienced. She's been First Lady, the Secretary of State, and a senator. She knows our international allies, and understands the complex relationships we have. So I think she's the best choice for people who care about national security international stability.

2. HEALTH
One of the issues I most care about the most is health care. (And since she's a nurse, I assume she cares a little about that too.) And an independent analysis shows that under Trump's health proposals, as many as 25 million people would lose health coverage. And low-income families and people with complex medical needs would be hurt the most.

3. TEAM
The president is only one person. Hillary will appoint good people, and I don't care if they're "insiders" if they will work toward positive change.

She then asked about the Supreme Court, and I conceded that if that's the only thing she cares about and wants the NRA and right-wing groups to select our justices, that's what Trump would do. But I told her that even if I shared her views about that, I'd still vote for Hillary for all the other reasons.

It was a civil, candid exchange of ideas, which is all too rare this year. And it was obvious that she's pained by this choice. She will vote, and she wants to make the right decision, and she's confused by all the name-calling, rumors, and accusations. So yes, there are undecided voters among us, and they're not all jerks.

Fact Check: Real Data on the Candidates' Health Proposals

If you or someone you know wants more than rhetoric, hyperbole, and personal attacks, take a look at these issue briefs from The Commonwealth Fund. Lots of data, charts, and easy-to-read analysis.



Friday, November 4, 2016

Father: Reject Trump to Protect People Like My Son

[This post contains no personal insults, no reference to emails, and nothing about sex. But please read it anyway.]

Blogger and author David Royko is literally begging people to not vote for Donald Trump. Why? Because he understands the threat a Trump presidency would represent for children like his his son Ben, who has autism. Read "Please, We BEG You, For Ben's Sake, Keep Trump Out."

Like other parents with firsthand experience with disability, I can relate to David's opinion in many ways. Most parents plan for the time when their child will move out, get a job, and live on their own. For fathers like David and me, we know our children will need specialized support their entire lives. The reality is that the future of Ben and other children "is 100 percent dependent upon our government," he says. "There is no other option."

In looking at next week's election, David says, "Even if Hillary Clinton is the biggest liar on our planet and is a despicable person, nothing in her history suggests she would dismantle our government, or that she would be unpredictable in absolutely extreme ways."

This is a critical decision for our country, he says, because the current system is "functional but rickety." A seemingly small change -- defunding a program, eliminating a "wasteful" agency, appointing an unqualified leader -- could have devastating effects on families that are already struggling.

David makes his final case this way: "I am begging ― BEGGING ― everybody to consider people like Ben....This is personal for our family and specifically the most vulnerable member of our family, and the most vulnerable members of many people’s families."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Do You Have a Plan? Resources for Voters with Disabilities

Easter Seals, one of the leading national advocacy organizations for people with disabilities, has prepared a helpful checklist to ensure that all eligible voters can vote. The organization has partnered with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) on a campaign called REV UP to ensure that Americans with disabilities can fully participate in the political process. The campaign is about much more than a a presidential election every four years -- "REV UP" stands for "Register, Educate, Vote, and Use Your Power."

Read and print the one-page checklist here, and download a voting resource card with important phone numbers. You'll also find tips for finding your polling place and making arrangements for curbside voting, mobile voting at long-term care facilities, and getting transportation on election day -- as well as specific links for topics including deaf and hard of hearing, blind or low vision, mobility, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Read more.

Additional resources:






Sunday, October 30, 2016

Voting for Hillary? Watch this. Not sure? Watch this.

Enough with the email talk. Do you want to feel real emotion and see the real reasons why Hillary Clinton should be our next president? Just watch this video. And if you're moved by it, share it with others. I don't want to write too much about it. Just watch it. I think it's one of the best, most authentic videos of this long campaign season.


Also, view "Reasons Why Deaf People Support Hillary Clinton" (select closed captioning if preferred).


Want to read more and get involved? Follow the Facebook page "Deaf People for Hillary."



Obstacles for Voters with Disabilities


"For many people with disabilities, the question is not will they vote, but can they vote." Read Vox's article "Americans with Disabilities Struggle to Exercise a Right that Most Take for Granted -- Voting."

Review the Justice Department's ADA Checklist for Polling Places.

Listen to or read NPR's story "Disabled Voters Fight for More Accessible Polling Places."




Thursday, October 27, 2016

From a College Student with Autism: "Why Hillary Clinton Deserves Disabled Community's Support"

In a powerful and persuasive op-ed in Vassar College's student newspaper, Jesser Horowitz shares her personal story, her relationship with Hillary Clinton, and why she urges all people with disabilities to vote for Clinton.
She writes: "I believe that Hillary Clinton can be the Amer­ican president the disabled community of this country has been waiting for: a champion of dis­ability rights that can finally bring our issues to the forefront of American politics where they belong. She, more than any other candidate in the history of America, shows a unique understanding of the struggles that disability poses....
"Most candidates for public office feel content addressing the major issues and ignoring the people that are impacted by them. They’re great at talking, but they’re terrible at listening. This becomes especially prominent when addressing issues of disability. Donald Trump doesn’t even mention the word disability on his website, yet he feels the need to comment about how vaccines cause autism on national television.
"Hillary Clinton differentiates herself from al­most every other politician through her passion for listening. She has a unique ability to ensure that voices are heard, and she utilizes that ability when crafting policy. Hillary Clinton is the only candidate with an extensive, detailed plan on how promote disability rights. That is because she is the only candidate who truly appreciates the power of listening and learning from people. That quality is essential in performing the responsibilities of pub­lic office generally and addressing issues facing the disability community specifically. It is that ability that will make her the best advocate we have ever had in the White House."

Read "Why Hillary Clinton Deserves Disabled Community's Support."


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fact Check: Did Donald Trump Mock Reporter with a Disability?


Last night was the final presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and a lot of people are relieved that debate season is almost over (except one more between the VP candidates). Disability policy was not a major topic (as has been true throughout this campaign), but Clinton did briefly express concern about Trump's attitudes toward people with disabilities.
While she was listing several examples of Trump's discriminatory behavior, she said, "He also went after a disabled reporter, mocked and mimicked him on national television," referring to New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition which limits the movement of his joints. 
Trump interrupted with one word: "Wrong."
Did he or didn't he mock Kovaleski? He did. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave Trump "4 Pinocchios" -- their lowest rating. And Politifact concludes his denial last night was false. Read "Donald Trump Says Hillary Clinton is 'Wrong' to Say He Mocked a Disabled Reporter" from Politifact. 


Four Threats to Medicare if Trump is Elected

Read "The 4 Ways Congress Could Weaken Medicare if Trump Becomes President" by Diane Archer, founder of JustCareUSA.org, in the Huffington Post.

1. Republicans in Congress want to privatize Medicare and turn it into a defined contribution program. This will force people to pay more for health care, because private insurers would have few limits on what they can charge for premiums, deductibles, and copayments.

2.  Republicans want to eliminate traditional Medicare. Traditional Medicare is the preferred option for 70 percent of people, because of the choice it offers for doctors and hospitals. This would restrict the government's ability to improve the program, which will mean fewer choices and higher costs.

3.  Republicans want to means-test Medicare even more, which would increase costs for middle-class and wealthier Americans.

4. Republicans want to raise the age of Medicare eligibility. People eligible for Medicare based on age can enroll when they are 65, but Republican leaders in Congress want to increase that to 67.

Read more.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law