Everyone Has A Right To Public Education, Including ALL Students With Disabilities

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

The laws on disabled children’s equal access to education are quite clear. The relevant document being Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It states that, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

It applies to programs and schools that receive cash from the United States Department of Education, including “public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies.”

Districts must provide a free, appropriate, public education “to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability” [emphasis mine]. Doesn’t matter if you’re fighting for accommodations for your kid’s dysgraphia or help to get your child with cerebral palsy the education she deserves. Every student in America. Is entitled. To an education. Full stop.

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There’s also the IDEA law. IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was first passed, according to, in 1973, and its goal is to make sure that all students receive that American gold standard of a free, appropriate, public education. Schools have to evaluate students with disabilities at no cost; IDEA covers “autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (including ADHD), specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and others), speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment, including blindness.” All children who fall into these categories — and for whom these issues impede classroom learning — get free services, resources, support, and therapy, from age 3 up to age 21.

My son, for example, is in the process of getting help for dysgraphia — despite the fact that we homeschool.

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Except some people, more people than you’d imagine, don’t believe in a free, appropriate, public, education. Our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is one of them. The DeVos administration has revoked 72 “guidance documents,” according to Pacific Standard, that affect the way students with disabilities are treated in the American school system. She says, basically, she’s trimming regulation and cutting red tape. Donald Moynihan, professor of public affairs at University of Wisconsin-Madison, said on Twitter that, basically, “states and schools…have de facto discretion…to deny access to services” since the resulting regulations are such a clusterfuck.

Gee, thanks Betsy, you’re a gem.

In an environment in which the administration itself seems to think that disabled students don’t deserve access to a free, appropriate, public education, it’s not shocking that the trickle-down effect is ugly.

This is obvious in the comments on a news article about Rosa Smith, 26, who was systematically abused by her special education teachers. Her mouth was taped shut (Rosa breathes through her mouth, leading to the risk of suffocation and aspiration), which staff had the gall to photograph and send to her mother via text message. In addition to this, the staff intentionally overmedicated her, and her leg was burnt with hot coffee.

Her parents are, understandably, suing the Washtenaw School District in Michigan, according to the New York Daily News. Some of the comments note that, yes, there is a special place in hell for people who would treat the disabled this way and reinforce the fact that she is entitled to a safe, individualized, quality education.

Others, not so much. These people also exist, folks:

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Basically, this girl doesn’t belong in our public schools; this girl is “too disabled” to deserve an education (as if people on the internet can evaluate someone’s intellect and deem it wanting). These kids have to be managed this way because what else are the aides supposed to do, and it’s better than an institution, so shut your stupid mouth. And insinuations that Rosa was a distraction to other students, even though absolutely nothing in the article suggests so, and that fact makes her undeserving of an education.

Absolutely vile.

Say it with me, people: Education is a fundamental human right.

None of us would deny education to a person because she’s a female. In fact, we fight hard to make sure that every girl, in every country in the world, has a fair shot at a real education. But we regularly point fingers, split hairs, make armchair medical diagnoses about which child deserves what kind of education, and how much, and for how long and in what environment, and with what punishments.

Some people don’t even think of people with disabilities as human; one commenter on The Root referred to “wranglers of such folk,” as if Rosa and her classmates were cattle. One woman, commenting on the story up on The Grio’s Facebook page, said, “LMFAO.”

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Another commenter on the Detroit News, said, “It sounds like she was incapable of learning or getting any benefit from it” [emphasis mine]. She’s insinuating that even if this child can learn, there is no benefit in teaching her.

Another vile woman simply said Rosa didn’t deserve to live in the first place:

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Nope, nope, nope. This is some eugenics-level bullshit.

Everyone deserves to learn, even if their education is nontraditional and makes accommodations to meet them where they are at. Also, it’s the law.

And you pro-lifers out there, you ought to be fighting tooth and nail and for special ed funding and resources. You’re so intent on getting those kids born — dropping them once they’re here is the epitome of hypocrisy. And hint: The laughing-so-hard-you’re-crying emoji is not the proper response.

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In reality, this could have been any of our children because Rosa is one of our children. So are the millions of children with disabilities in our country, disabilities that range from ADHD to severe mental deficiencies, feeding tubes, breathing assistance, and more. All of them are our kids. And all of them deserve a chance to learn in the ways that they can.

And we have a solemn duty to fight for it.

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