Louisiana Special Education Bill Would Segregate Students With Disabilities, Advocates Say

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Should schools expect students with a disability to know the same things as other kids their age to advance and graduate?

This decades-old question, which strikes at the heart of the civil rights movement for students who have disabilities, has provoked a debate in Louisiana that’s dividing advocates.

Legislation unanimously approved by the Louisiana House now being considered by the Senate potentially would lower expectations for students with disabilities by allowing teachers and administrators to promote or graduate them without regard for state standards, according to several national advocacy groups and Louisiana’s schools chief. But local politicians and the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council say the bill would put Louisiana on par with other states by providing students with disabilities a clearer path to graduation.

“I’m for Louisiana having a more flexible path to a diploma for students with disabilities that are truly leading to persistent academic struggles,” John White, the state education commissioner, told The Huffington Post. “What I am not for is a bill saying students with disabilities can’t achieve traditional standards and even more than that, that we as adults shouldn’t be held accountable for helping them achieve traditional standards.”

The bill was introduced in February by Rep. John Schroder, a Republican who represents Covington, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. It was part of a flurry of legislation state lawmakers introduced to tap into rising popular sentiment¬†against the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards.¬†Schroder’s other bills would tweak the standards, but wouldn’t revoke them.

Schroder’s special education bill aims to make it easier for students with disabilities to graduate. It does so by placing promotion and graduation decisions for students with disabilities who fail to meet required scores on state tests entirely in the hands of the school-based teams that work on students’ individualized education plans, or IEPs. IEP teams could grant diplomas to students they deem incapable of meeting state and local graduation requirements, if they meet their IEP standards. The legislation would exclude those students from state tests used to judge school performance, but would reward schools for each student who meets the IEP goals.

“It’s not fine to say that our accountability of adults should be contingent on whatever we want to set that accountability at,” White said. “That sets all kinds of incentives to lower the bar and over-classify kids as having special needs.”

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Source: Huffington Post | Joy Resmovits

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