Federal Government Moves to Protect Students with Disabilities

In two recent situations, agencies of the U.S. government are defining the protections offered to students with disabilities. In one instance, the Supreme Court has accepted a case that will better define what are minimum expectations in special education. In another, the Department of Education has asked a Texas agency to respond to allegations that they limited the number of students who could receive special education services.

Picture of a lightbulb glowing in the sky.
The IDEA Act is a law protecting students with disabilities. Once a federal law is approved, federal government agencies continue to define it in courts of law. photo credit: Domenico Mascagna (@memmettovich) COSA ASPETTIAMO via photopin (license)

Education Law in the Supreme Court

Disability Scoop reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which will address “the IDEA’s mandate that public schools provide children with disabilities a free appropriate public education, or FAPE.”

According to its website, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is “a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”

The Supreme Court case revolves around parents who withdrew their child with autism from public school and put their child in private school, the sought reimbursement from the public schools. Lower courts ruled in the school district’s favor for not having to pay. The parents have escalated the case, asking for a definition of what level education is acceptable for children with disabilities.

“This court should hold that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient,” the U.S. solicitor general indicated, according to the report.

Picture of a variety of students playing in a classroom.
Under the IDEA Act, all students have the right to a “free appropriate public education, or FAPE.” photo credit: U.S. Army Garrison Japan 4th-graders practice mindfulness in classroom via photopin (license)

Education law in a State

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative report by Brian M. Rosenthal alleging that the Texas Education Agency limited special education enrollment in schools, a move that caused districts and schools to further limit special education identification of students and kept “tens of thousands of children out of special education.”

In a follow-up article to his investigative report, the Chronicle’s reporter Rosenthal said they sent a copy of their report to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The department responded swiftly with a request for more information from the Texas Education Agency within 30 days.

According to the letter shared in the report, the federal agency “ordered Texas state officials to eliminate an 8.5 percent benchmark on special education enrollment enforced in the state’s 1,200 school districts unless they can show that it had not kept children with disabilities from receiving appropriate educational services.”

The agency letter, like the Supreme Court, questions whether the IDEA Act is being observed in letter and in spirit.

Federal actions will continue to define how states and their schools should observe federal disability laws, in this case, the IDEA Act.



Class Learns Sign Language for Classmate

When a teacher accepted a child with hearing loss into her class, she didn’t know how to communicate with him, and he didn’t know sign language.

The teacher and parents of children in his class committed to contracting  a sign language teacher at their cost, since the school couldn’t pay for it.

A series of pictures of a woman using sign language
Examples of signs. Using sign language helps people with hearing loss or deafness to learn more about Deaf culture. photo credit: See Hear via photopin (license)

According to a report in Oddity Central, when six-year-old Zejd Coralic’s mother went to enroll him in school in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzogovina, his teacher, Sanela Ljumanovic, accepted.

However, the teacher “noticed Zejd sitting all by himself, unable to communicate with any of his school mates,” according to the report.

“Zejd came to our class. He is a beautiful and smart child. Zejd did not know sign language. We did not know sign language. Neither the children nor me. We had to do something,” Ljumanovic said in a video.

Ljumanovic took the suggestion of a parent and decided to teach the whole class sign language so they could speak with their peer, according to the report. They hired Anisa Setkic-Sendic to teach them sign language.

Two girls use sign language.
Classmates around the ages of these girls studied sign language to communicate with their peer. photo credit: Learning sign language via photopin (license)

The children are responding well to learning sign language and it is becoming more popular at the school. “I like this language and I also think it will be useful when I grow up,” said Anesa Susic, one of his classmates.

“I like to learn Zejd’s language so I can talk to him and to other deaf people,” said Tarik Sijaric, another classmate, in the report.

Integrating children into schools in Bosnia was made law in 2003, according to a video about the student’s story. “But there isn’t enough money for the programs.”

Where to Connect to DeafBlind Resources

The Sign Shares’ blog has posted the past few articles relating to support people for individuals who are DeafBlind, or who have
both vision and hearing loss.

However, how do individuals seek DeafBlind Interpreters, Support Service Providers (SSPs), or Interveners? How do those who are DeafBlind pay for them?

One of the first stops for assistance is vocational rehabilitation. If an individual has a severe enough disability–and having both
vision and hearing loss qualifies–then most individuals can receive some assistance with services and/or equipment and training they need to maintain their independence from their state’s vocational rehabilitation program.

Here is a list of vocational rehabilitation agencies across America. It lists agencies by state.

Vocational rehabilitation may assist individuals who are going to school or work, as well as individuals who aren’t working and need support to live, work, and play independently.

Once an individual is a client of a vocational rehabilitation program, they may assist with the cost of DeafBlind Interpreters and potentially SSPs.

However, federal and state agencies, as well as cities, will provide these services if the individual requests them. They usually need some advanced notice so they have time to make an appointment for the individual to have services. Also, large businesses that serve the public are also required to provide these services as requested.

Schools provide Interveners as needed, and the request for one should be in a student’s education plan. The first step for this is for the student to be enrolled with special education or disability services programs at school or college/university. From there, they can request DeafBlind Interpreters and Interveners to assist with communication and/or learning, as is needed by the student.

While most services can be paid for through vocational rehabilitation, schools, colleges, and universities, as well as sometimes through government agencies and businesses, it
takes extra information to be prepared and learn what is needed for independence.

Joining organizations that have other individuals who have similar needs makes it easier to socialize and learn more about ways to adapt.

There are many organizations to choose from, based on the person’s needs and interests.

Here is a list of nationwide DeafBlind Organizations.

These supports are the beginning for a person who is DeafBlind getting assistance to have the services he or she needs to live the fullest life possible.

Premiere Tonight, Dec. 8: “Born this Way,” a Series about People with Developmental Disabilities

“The doctors asked her if she wanted to have a abortion of me. I could be out there dead,” a young man tells a group of people. That he has Down Syndrome is the detail that makes the doctors’ suggestion especially chilling.

Father holds daughter who has Down Syndrome.
Parents and children with Down Syndrome are often discouraged by limitations created by stereotypes. (license)

He is just one of the cast members of a new TV show premieres tonight, Tuesday Dec. 8 on A&E® Network at 9 p.m. CT. The docu-series will cover the lives of seven individuals with Down Syndrome.

Born This Way is an A&E® Network and Bunim/Murry Productions series. There are six, hour-long episodes.

You can preview the series with captions here.

According to the series’ YouTube channel, the show will explore the lives of seven adults with Down Syndrome “as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations.”

One of the show’s stars, entrepreneur and public speaker Megan Bomgaars, has started her own business, Megology. Her website sells hand-dyed scarves and tote bags.

Also on Bomgaars’ website is her video, “Don’t Limit Me,” which is a message to teachers about the need to set high expectations for students with disabilities. The video has more than 338,000 views.

Room with people in meeting. Floor reads Disability is NOT inability.
Bomgaar’s video implores teachers to set high (not impossible) expectations for all students. (license)

The show also portrays their parents and explores difficult topics, such as having children, getting married, and what happens when their parents are no longer living.

Bomgaars’ mother asks, “She needs to be independent, but what happens when I die?” Can Bomgaar find a way to have it all?

Viewers will discover the show challenges their thinking.