Incapacity Rights Teams Ship Letter to Biden Transition Crew Opposing Schooling Secretary Contender Eskelsen Garcia, Say Former NEA Chief Did not Steer Union ‘Towards Fairness and Entry for College students With Disabilities’
Controversial comments Lily Eskelsen Garcia made in an address to a progressive advocacy group five years ago resurfaced this week as speculation continues over whether former head of the National Education Association will be named president-elect Joe Biden’s election as education secretary . As Linda Jacobson reported on Wednesday, the backlash has increased during the online speech this week. During this time Eskelsen Garcia can be heard, who contains a list of students with different needs such as “hearing impaired” and “physically disabled”.
It then also included “the chronically late and the medically annoying”.
On Thursday, numerous disability rights groups co-signed and distributed a letter they sent to the Biden transition team. They raised concerns not only about the comments Eskelsen Garcia made during the address, but also about her broader track record on issues involving student disabilities:
Dear members of the Biden Education Transition Team,
The signatories to this letter are national advocacy organizations that represent disabled students, their families and their serving educators. Together we advocate guidelines that ensure that students with disabilities are included in all aspects of society and have every chance of success. We are writing to express serious concern about the potential appointment of Lily Eskelsen Garcia as Secretary of Education and positions previously held as President of the National Education Association (NEA).
Eskelsen Garcia was President of NEA from 2014-2020, in this role leading and overseeing the development of many positions that were in direct contrast to those held by parents and parenting organizations in support of children with disabilities. NEA’s positions adversely affected the success of students with disabilities. These include:
1. Rejection of the legal principle of “least restrictive environment” in the Law on the Education of People with Disabilities (IDEA). IDEA makes it clear that every child with a disability must receive their education with students without disabilities to the greatest possible extent. This fundamental promise within the law is known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Students with disabilities are initially general education students. Any student receiving special services (e.g., students with disabilities, low income students, English learners) is primarily a student in the general education system. Most research shows that providing education for students with disabilities in the general education classroom offers clear academic, social, and behavioral benefits for students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities. Even so, the NEA published an article in 2016 indicating that inclusion does not prepare students for life after high school and that compliance with legal requirements for the LRE is not always appropriate.
2. Rejection of national assessments, citing their harm to students with disabilities. NEA’s 2020 Policy Playbook shows they oppose nationwide ratings and urges policymakers to use the rating system because of the “negative impact of the tests on students of all backgrounds, particularly from resource-poor communities, English learners and children Skin color, recheck and disabled people. “Ironically, nationwide ratings are the only comparable indicator available to the public that shows how all students with disabilities perform compared to their peers at multiple grade levels. It was only with the death of No Child Left Behind in 2001 that disabled students were counted in state and regional accountability systems. Before that, the parents did not know how their children would behave against the state standards. Advocates of disabilities and civil rights strongly oppose a return to a time when students with disabilities and other systemically marginalized students were affected
3. Rejection of the 1% limit for using alternative ratings in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Research shows that the vast majority of students with disabilities can and should achieve content standards at the class level.4 It is only appropriate for a small percentage of students with disabilities to participate in national alternative assessments based on Alternative Performance Standards (AA-AAS) . . The Law on Every Student’s Success therefore sets a 1% cap, which limits participation in these assessments to 1% of students (approximately 10% or less of students with disabilities). The NEA rejected this upper limit and fought to ensure that more students could meet this lower standard even though students were able to reach higher levels. While doing so is against the law, assigning to the AA-AAS can have significant negative consequences for students with disabilities, including removing them from general education and lowering expectations of students to meet standards at grade level, assigning to segregated Classrooms and not being able to graduate with a regular high school diploma.
4. Against the abolition of the “2 percent” rating. After the No Child Left Behind was passed (when students with disabilities were first included in the assessment and accountability system) and before the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed, states were allowed to develop alternative assessments to modified performance standards (AA) -MAS) . According to the National Disability Council (NCD)[t]These ratings enabled districts and states to rate students with disabilities who were “unlikely to achieve grade-level proficiency” as proficient if they performed proficiently on Alternative Modified Performance Standards (AA-MAS) assessments while the Students rated as competent did not exceed 2% of all students assessed (2% corresponds to approximately 20 disabled students). “In practice, this rating (and associated classroom practices) has been used to lower expectations for students with disabilities, and many states rated more than 2% of their students on this test. In some locations, such as districts in California, up to 70% of students with disabilities have been tested under the AA-MAS. With the support of the disabled community, the US Department of Education passed a rule in 2015 to ban the 2 percent rule.
5. Counter-efforts to eliminate remoteness and reduce physical reticence in schools. Data from data collection from the U.S. Department of Education for Civil Rights continues to show that most of the restrained and withdrawn students were disabled students, who made up 13 percent of all enrolled students, but represented 80 percent of all physically restrained students and 77 percent of all remote students. Restraint and seclusion are dangerous practices that continue to lead to trauma, injury, and death of children. For many years, the disabled community has advocated the need for federal laws to set national minimum standards that prohibit the use of seclusion and prevent the use of physical restraint in schools. The NEA supported the Keeping All Students Safe Act in 2014, but failed until 2020 under the leadership of Eskelsen Garcia.
As head of NEA, Eskelsen Garcia had the opportunity to steer the organization towards equity and access for students with disabilities, but did not. We have serious concerns about putting someone with such values at the helm of the U.S. Department of Education – a federal agency responsible for upholding the civil rights of students with disabilities and improving outcomes for all students.
We would be happy to discuss these concerns in more detail and hope that you will seriously consider them as you develop and finalize the list of potential nominees. We encourage you to ensure that each candidate for Minister of Education demonstrably supports the inclusion and maintenance of high standards for students with disabilities.
Association of University Centers for Disabilities
Autistic network for self-advocacy
Center for Public Representation
Council of Parents Advocates and Lawyers
National Center for Learning Disabilities
National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
National Down Syndrome Congress
The Advocacy Institute
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