Tom Hehir: A Champion for the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities

Thomas Hehir

We at the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) mourn the loss and celebrate the extraordinary life and contribution of Tom Hehir, Ed.D. Throughout his decades-long career in special education, from special educator in Massachusetts, to director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Tom was a tireless advocate for children with disabilities and their families.

Tom was relentless in his pursuit for equity and inclusion of children with disabilities. He shaped the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 that required students with disabilities to have access to the general education curriculum. He demanded that our nation increase its expectations for the academic performance of students with disabilities and that all students could benefit and be successful by learning the same material as their non-disabled peers. In addition, Tom produced research that changed our understanding of how to identify and support children with disabilities. His work has changed for the better the life trajectory for children with disabilities, including children of color with disabilities and those from low-income backgrounds.

While Tom was an intellectual giant in the special education policy and research world, he was also a generous, humble, and humorous friend to many, with charm and a huge smile that lit up every room he entered. He will be remembered for his devotion to the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life. We are grateful for his lifetime of service.

Katy Neas
Deputy Assistant Secretary
(Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services)


  1. The field of Special Education and all of Education is feeling th loss of Dr Hehir. I had the honor and was blessed to have worked with Tom here in Massachusetts, in my earlier years of my career. He was a true leader for students most at risk. His legacy will certainly continue!

  2. What a beautiful tribute to Tom and reflection on all he did for children and families with disabilities and the incredible humanity he brought to his personal and professional relationship. I feel so lucky to have worked with him and mostly to have learned from him early in my career. May his memory be a blessing.

  3. He was an amazing educator that inspired so many. He worked tirelessly to ensure every child has the opportunity to attain their greatest potential. We will continue to lead in his honor.

  4. The end of an era! But Tom’s legacy lives on as we continue to work on equity and inclusivity for students with disabilities.

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