Politics With Peyton: Special Education Is Not Helping Those With Disabilities

Growing up, I’ve worked a few jobs — a barista at coffee shops, an acoustic night host and even a chips and salsa vendor at Kroger. However, my first job may always be my favorite. At 14, I was a dance teacher assistant at The River Performing and Visual Arts, an organization for kids with disabilities. 

This month is Autism Acceptance Month. According to the CDC, in 2021, 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with autism, and boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed. Yet, our government still supports legislation that hurts those with autism and other disabilities. 

The special education system is flawed.  

Children with disabilities thrive on structure and consistency. When the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down schools, they received neither. The shutdown created a problem for every parent who never knew how home schooling worked. It hit harder for parents who relied on trained teachers in special education and then had to navigate schooling with their child. 

These parents were forgotten during the pandemic. 

Schools across the country – predominately in Texas – were operating on a “special enough” basis. Schools used this method by taking data such as communication and functional skills, reading and math levels, as well as success in previous semesters to determine whether certain students had a big enough disability to return for
in-person schooling. 

Kids who had been told their disability was too big for the classroom were now being told their disability was enough. The handling of special education during the pandemic resulted in kids – friends of mine – receiving a poor education.

Zoe White, who has autism, was a senior during the pandemic. She struggled with the lack of guidance and needed more attention. When given the option, she quickly returned to in-person schooling to catch up on lost progress.

Similarly, Lauren Trott, who was a fifth grader with down syndrome at the time, could not risk her immune system with in-person education. Therefore, Lauren’s mother had no choice but to quit her job to home school Lauren. However, the isolation slowed down Lauren’s success in school – especially her speech. 

“Just sitting on a Zoom call with no hands-on instructions, they’re just watching videos. There’s nothing effective about it,” Leanne Trott said. 

Lauren’s mother withdrew Lauren from her public school to focus on Lauren’s speech regression. 

These are just two families who suffered during the pandemic. There are countless common hurdles that families of children with disabilities must navigate.  

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time our education system has failed children with disabilities. 

In 1975, President Gerald Ford prepared to sign a law which ensured kids with disabilities were guaranteed the right to a public education. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was described by Ford as an underfunded bill which gave too high of hopes to the parents. Before the bill was to be fully implemented in ’78, it was to be revised to be more effective. 

Although the bill had good intentions, the result today is a poorly implemented system, with many families suffering the consequences.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires school districts to seek out and evaluate any child in their jurisdiction who may have a disability. This is known as the “child find” law. 

Laws like these could eliminate students who need it most. 

This process allows for mistakes, both intentional and unintentional. The U.S. Department of Education called out Texas in 2019 for failing to process students correctly, thus recording low enrollment for special education.

The foundation of the process that determines eligibility for special education is flawed. Children who need special education are being offered help only after they have failed in the typical classroom. Waiting to provide accommodations for a student with a disability until they emotionally explode or alienate themselves socially is morally and practically unjust. 

Dyslexaida illustrates, “If the medical profession spent all of its resources on curing the sick rather than preventing the illness, we would still be struggling with mumps, measles, and smallpox.” 

Students with and without disabilities deserve equal education. Use this month to become aware of the disadvantages some have, not just within education but in overall quality of life. 

Mackenzie is the opinion editor. Follow her on Twitter

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