Reprinted from National Down Syndrome Congress
Last week, NDSC received word that the US Department of Education (ED) was planning to release guidance in the immediate future that would likely make it more difficult than it already is for children with disabilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Immediately, the NDSC Policy Team and members of the NDSC Policy Council began to take action to protect the legal presumption in IDEA that all children with disabilities will be educated in the general education classroom; except in the rare circumstance that the child cannot get a satisfactory education in that environment even with the provision of supplementary aids and services.
We began working through high-level bipartisan channels to obtain more information and express our deep concerns and strong opposition to any weakening of the rights of children with disabilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment. Over the past few days, NDSC has met directly with OSERS Assistant Secretary, Johnny Collett, as well as with key Republican and Democratic Members of Congress and their senior staffers to try to stop ED from issuing such guidance. NDSC has also been working closely in coalition with other disability and education groups on this issue. We have signed onto a joint statement.
This past Thursday, we were informed in a meeting with senior ED officials that this guidance does not exist, despite credible evidence to the contrary. In any case, we are pleased and relieved that it is not being released. While laws and regulations are binding on states and districts, guidance documents are used to clarify laws and regulations. Any guidance from ED that modifies the interpretation of LRE could have devastating consequences for the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. NDSC will continue to advocate with ED and Members of Congress to stop such guidance from being issued in the future.
NDSC is committed to advocating to retain the LRE provision in IDEA and improve its implementation. This civil right has been a part of IDEA since the first version of the law was passed in 1975 and has been strengthened in subsequent reauthorizations. NDSC's position policy statement on inclusive education is posted on our website.