The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has caused concern among parents and advocates of children with special needs. They are worried about whether she will work in the best interests of the over 6.5 million students who require special education in school.
During her confirmation hearing in January, DeVos appeared to lack knowledge and understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is a landmark federal law that has governed special education since 1975. It allows children with developmental challenges or learning disabilities access to a “free appropriate public education.”
When questioned about whether public schools should be required to comply with IDEA, DeVos replied that its enforcement was “best left to the states.” Her response has led many special education advocates to fear that she is not committed to implementing the law.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the American Association of People with Disabilities commented, “Secretary DeVos has not expressed a strong commitment to public schools or to ensuring that all students, including students with disabilities, receive equal educational opportunities.”
Following the backlash that arose from her remarks DeVos wrote to Sen. Johnny Isakson, a member of the Senate education committee. In the letter she asserted her commitment to “protecting the hard won rights of students with disabilities.”
While helpful, the letter failed to completely eradicate doubts. Some advocacy groups are still worried about DeVos backing plans to use taxpayer money for vouchers for education at private schools that may not be required to comply with IDEA.
Ultimately, families want the security of knowing that their special needs child will have fair access to education just like any other child. It remains to be seen which direction the country’s vast education system will go in under its new leadership.