By Connie Lee
From the fires down under, COVID19, and murder hornets, 2020 has definitely proven to be a historical year. This year also marks the 30th anniversary the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA was landmark legislation that was intended to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government’ programs and services including education.
Last spring, California announced the closure of all public schools. Within the blink of an eye, we were expected to not just be parents, but also take on roles to become their teachers and execute the so called distance learning “curriculum”. Like many families, we looked forward to return to a normal school year this fall, however, most schools in California will remain closed and only open for distance learning. The learning is distance for sure, and for some, almost non-existent – particularly for those in special education.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office reported 1 in 8 students in California receive special education totaling almost 800,000 children. Under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a free appropriate public education must be offered to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation ensuring special education and related services. With the advent of COVID19, many of these services have come to a screeching halt. There was debate on the congressional floor, whether or not schools could be granted waivers to not be held accountable to provide special education services during these unprecedented times due to difficulty and lack of resources to execute these services. These waivers were denied, but they might as well been waived…because to date, many of us have yet to see what schools are providing to our kids to fully access their distance learning curriculum.
There have been many parents of typical (those not under a special education plan) children screaming at the schools and districts voicing their displeasure of the lack of a solid education plan for their students. They are so beside themselves that their children are falling behind and never going to catch up. They can’t believe what the district provided as curriculum was a joke and not meaningful instruction. When I heard these stories, I couldn’t help but to stop and silently chuckle and say to myself, “welcome to my world!” The anguish they feel is the same as what we, as parents of special education students, feel EVERY DAY. Every day we have to fight for our children to get appropriate services to learn what their peers are learning. Every day we have to fight to keep them in their classrooms. Every day we have to prove our children are capable of learning and should not be subject of lower standards.
While those typical parents are worried their children are falling behind, special education students will fall even further behind. I’ve heard many teachers, faculty, and parents comment that “all students” are behind, so it’s OK for special education children to stay behind and stagnant where they are –they will catch up. The truth is, no they won’t. They never had the same equity in education as typical students did to begin with. They never started the race at the same starting line. Flash forward thirty years after ADA was enacted, a time where we should be celebrating great milestones and achievements… today, children with disabilities are still left in the dust to never see the finish line. Is this worth celebrating?
Bio: Connie Lee is a mom to two children living with Autism and a parent advocate with Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT). Contact Connie at firstname.lastname@example.org.