By Katherine (Katy) Neas, Deputy Assistant Secretary
Delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
This month marks 46 years since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted. I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without sharing some reflections about the importance of IDEA, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirming the commitment of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) to upholding this landmark civil rights law.
The last 18 months have challenged schools, families, and students in countless ways. Together, they navigated situations no one ever anticipated. In my role at OSERS, I’ve heard from some parents that their children struggled mightily with virtual learning. Others have told me that their children thrived. Yet, during this time when uncertainty was pervasive, a few things remained constant. The vast majority of educators — general education teachers, special education teachers, early intervention services providers, specialized instructional school personnel, administrators and others — were heroic in their commitment to meeting infants, toddlers and students’ needs. Families and caregivers did all they could to support and advocate for their learners. And the protections of IDEA remained throughout it all.
In 1975, it was a different world for children with disabilities. More than 1.8 million students with disabilities were denied access to an education. For those who receive any services, most were delivered in segregated settings and few children had access to the same educational curriculum as their nondisabled peers. Today, more than 70 percent of students in special education graduate with a standard high school diploma. Hundreds of thousands of infants and toddlers are reaching developmental milestones thanks to effective early intervention services.
Parents of children with disabilities started this journey that has transformed millions of lives over these past 46 years. They demanded that their child with a disability have the same right to a public education as was afforded their non-disabled children. Their dedication to equity shaped the values that permeate our work at the U.S. Department of Education: that all children have value and deserve an education.
As we celebrate this IDEA anniversary, I am excited about what lies ahead. President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative advances the ideals and goals of the promise of IDEA. Not only does Build Back Better establish universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, it also invests in grant programs to address teacher shortages and to prepare teachers through specialized training to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Once enacted, the President’s initiative further ensures that all children, including those with disabilities, will have the educational supports they need to be productive, independent, and contributing members of their communities.
Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.