Stand with disabled American children for educational equality!

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In 1990, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Originally enacted in 1975 as Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) by a 404-7 vote in the House and 87-7 vote in the Senate, the purpose of IDEA is to provide America's students with disabilities equal opportunities to excel in local school systems. In 2004, the IDEA Improvement Act was signed into law as a major amendment to IDEA. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the original IDEA and its amendments were all signed into law by Republican presidents.

In a 2000 floor statement, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the birth place of Helen Keller, criticized the IDEA. Sen. Sessions argued that the IDEA contributed to the decline in civility because of the lack of discipline involving students such as those he referred to as "emotionally conflicted." According to him, "(w)e have children we cannot control because of this federal law." He added that "many instructional hours are lost to teachers in dealing with behavior problems. In times of an increasingly competitive global society it is no wonder American students fall short. Certain children are allowed to remain in the classroom robbing the other children of hours that can never be replaced."

The nomination of Sen. Sessions to be the next U.S. Attorney General may put at risk decades of progress in educational equality and excellence for American children with disabilities. There are many categories of disability covered by the IDEA, reflecting the unique learning needs of different groups. What they all need is not "discipline" or exclusion from the school system, but innovative supports and services that build on decades of bipartisan efforts to promote equality and excellence in America's schools. After all, America is a nation of innovators. IDEA is an innovative response to the exclusion of disabled children from U.S. schools, and it has enabled millions of Americans to succeed academically and professionally, including the author of this letter who's deafblind and legally came to America because no school in his native country accepted him.

Families, educators, advocates and all other concerned citizens join in urging the U.S. Senate to bring up this matter with the nominee. As citizens, we expect our elected representatives in Congress to thoroughly examine all nominees for federal office whose positions may threaten American families, especially those who have disabled children. Sen. Sessions should explain how he will protect and promote the rights of all children with disabilities as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

1. "Education Discipline and IDEA" – Floor statement by Sen. Jeff Sessions:
2. "Would Special Education Rights Be Safe With Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General?" – Tara H.:
3. "What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?" – Andrew M. I. Lee:
4. "Categories of Disabilities Under IDEA" Center for Parent Information and Resources:
5. "Individusl with Disabilities Education Act: 40 Years Later" – American Institutes for Research:

Post Public Comments

Public Comments (42)
Apr 27th, 2017
Jennifer N. from Lake Mary, FL signed.
Jan 26th, 2017
Terri B. from Melville, NY writes:
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My 27 year old son contracted meningitis shortly after birth and left him with multiple disabilities. I'm happy to say that he has grown and matured primarily because he had the opportunity and access to learning because of IDEA. He is not 'behavioral'. He needed opportunity and people around him who believed that learning is not the same for everyone. We need people who do not discriminate based on ability and or race. Sessions should not be appointed as Attorney General.
Jan 19th, 2017
Margaret Mary B. from Schenectady, NY signed.
Jan 19th, 2017
Lisa R. from Newark, NY signed.
Jan 18th, 2017
Juri H. from Ithaca, NY writes:
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Sessions' ill-considered view that integration of children with disabilities with those who do not have special needs leads to the negative outcome in US global competitiveness is deeply offensive. Education give us the tools to contribute productively to our greater community, and while I do understand that greater resources and accommodation will be called forth to meet my daughter's needs (deaf and blind on the left, among other medical issues), I would posit that her full inclusion in the greater community of her school, church, and her world here has provided great benefits to others that more than "pays back for the hours of special consideration." Her determination, grit and resilience is testament to what "disabled kids" are capable of, given the support of her committed parents, her community and the legal protection of the IDEA. She is a freshman in a very competitive public high school with a weighted GPA of 4.9, taking all honors and AP course. She has benefited from IDEA, and she will surely become a productive member of society. We can not go back to the time and the mindset expressed by Sessions that would segregate children like my daughter in the name of "global competitiveness.'' While we educate our children so that they can become independent adults, education is more than ensuring one's economic self-sufficiency. We educate our children so that they can become citizens, connected to others in appreciation and acknowledgment of how we are all part of this country of ours that respect our individual self, regardless of race, ability, gender, national origin. I write that last sentence with a heavy heart as that is what I thought America stood for: the events of this past year and the continuing assault of the ideals that led to IDEA is troubling.
Jan 18th, 2017
S. from Bellerose, NY signed.
Jan 18th, 2017
Someone from Harker Heights, TX writes:
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Unbelievable! What does he suggest we do with our children? Has he not had the privilege of meeting an educated, capable student who happens to have disabilities? He obviously has not met their parents either... not yet!
Jan 18th, 2017
A P. from South Ozone Park, NY writes:
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We want out children to have every access to all the resources available to enable them to be productive and independent citizens.
Jan 18th, 2017
Barbara L. from Albertson, NY writes:
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All Americans should be equal under the law, including those with disabilities.
Jan 18th, 2017
Donna R. from Frederick, MD writes:
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We need more support for children and adults with disabilities NOT less! Any teacher would agree!
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