The “Occupy” movements, combined with the upcoming elections, present an ideal opportunity to raise national awareness about two laws designed to protect students with disabilities: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, formerly known as No Child Left Behind) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The reality is that neither law is perfect. And, given the proposed revisions to ESEA and in the daily implementation of too many students’ IEPs under IDEA, we’ve got more challenges ahead.
How do I think we can “Occupy LD”?
Now, when ESEA is up for reauthorization, we must ask President Obama and every elected legislator to work in a bipartisan spirit to reauthorize a new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, formerly known as No Child Left Behind) that is fully accountable to students with LD. (Look for “Action Alerts” from NCLD so you can weigh in on this important pending legislation.) And, after the elections take place, and discussions (hopefully) start about the reauthorization of IDEA, we need to keep asking our elected officials to work together to protect the rights of students with LD.
Right now, two proposed pieces of legislation – the Student Success Act and the Isakson Amendment – will, if passed, allow school districts to give any student with an IEP an alternate assessment that is based on alternate standards. This is in lieu of the standardized tests that measure their non-disabled peers’ progress on grade-level standards. This would set special education rights back to pre-1975 federal law and could potentially derail millions of students off of an already fragile “regular” diploma track. We must not allow this to happen!
Let’s Take a Stand: Labor Day Rallies
The harsh reality is that nearly 30% of students with disabilities drop out of high school. Of those who do finish high school, students with learning disabilities earn on average $9.60 cents and 82% earn an annual income of less than $25,000. And, students who don’t graduate with a regular diploma are likely to have more trouble entering the workforce.
How can we draw national attention to the needs of students with LD? I propose Labor Day rallies that shine a light on the unemployment and underemployment of individuals with LD. What better time to make our case than while candidates are on the stump talking about the nation’s jobs crisis? Let’s educate the public about how these issues lead to egregious achievement gaps and poor outcomes for students with LD. They aren’t inevitable – they’re preventable! Let’s take our message to Capitol Hill, state capitols across the U.S., and points all along the campaign trail!
Take a Stand on Your Child’s IEP
In my previous articles on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), I wrote about the frequent problems with the implementation of this important document – guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to eligible students – that I have witnessed – and continue to witness – during my thirty years as an advocate for children with disabilities (LD). Although IDEA is not likely to be reauthorized in the next year, which means that any changes to this law are unlikely to be put into place for at least another school year, it’s critically important for parents to be vigilant in all matters that affect their child’s IEP. Make sure you’re fully informed about the IEP process.
Civil Rights and Education
The public education of our nation’s students with disabilities is the civil rights issue of our time. Children with disabilities have not been in such a precarious position in more than forty years. Parents, teachers, and other concerned citizens who carry out an “Occupy LD” movement will send the message that every child is a precious resource worth fighting for. Disability does not equate inability; so says the Occupy LD movement. So, I challenge you to step up, be active in ESEA reauthorization activities, and be a fully informed participant in the creation and monitoring of your child’s IEP.
Marcie Lipsitt lives in Michigan with her husband, son and three dogs. She is an advocate for children’s civil rights to a meaningful public education.