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6 Special Needs Parents Share The Most Dangerous Thing About Betsy DeVos' Confirmation


The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, arguably the most controversial confirmation process in a series of contentious confirmations, is not likely to be forgotten by anyone any time soon. DeVos was barely confirmed by the senate on Feb. 7 after Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking ballot, following a vote split almost entirely down party lines, save for the Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — both of whom had the opportunity to block DeVos’ vote on the Senate floor and did not do so. Her appointment is a terror to many parents, but DeVos' confirmation is especially scary for special-needs parents. A billionaire philanthropist from Michigan, DeVos was the subject of a number of protests, a flood of phone calls to the Senate, and wide-spread ridicule regarding her lack of experience, poor understanding of federal education law, large donations to the Senators who helped confirm her, and thoughts on permitting guns in schools for protection from grizzly bears.

Speaking personally, there have been a number of issues on which it has not surprised me in the slightest that the Republican-majority senate has tied itself in knots to bend to the will of our 45 president. However, this confirmation seemed to draw so much anger from teachers and parents, especially parents of children with disabilities, across party lines, that I expected to see Republican senators respond to that pressure. The calls regarding the DeVos confirmation overwhelmed the senators’ offices — so much so that many people calling found the phones turned off or voicemails full. I thought that I would finally see history lessons in action, our representatives bending to the unequivocal will of the people.

But no.

Now I am not an expert on grizzly bears, billionaire contributions to senators, or plagiarism rules in Senate questionnaires, but everything I understand about each of these issues with relation to DeVos gives me extreme pause if only by the shear number of concerns raised.

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I am, however, the mother of a child with disabilities who already struggles to fully access her right to a free and appropriate public education. And I can tell you that everything I know about the difficulties families like mine face in getting school districts to adequately meet the educational requirements of children who have special needs tells me that the DeVos appointment is a direct threat to my child’s educational future.

In many ways, I feel like we're on the edge of moving backwards to a time where children like my daughter were unable to access an appropriate education. I am not the only one. Adults with disabilities are speaking out: Allison Cardwell, an adult with cerebral palsy whose open letter to DeVos went viral recently, put it, ““providing children with a fair chance to learn is the first step in ending a cycle of dependence on public assistance. My education is the only reason I no longer rely on government benefits.” And parents of young children who are afraid of very real impact even one year of policy changes regarding their child’s education could have on their growth and development are speaking up.

Here's how they feel:

Ali Cummins

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Cummins is 33 years old and from Illinois.

Her appointment has really been a slap in the face to the parents like me who work to make sure that our children not only have the most appropriate accommodations for them to flourish and grow, but that they are treated fairly as human beings as well.

Katie Banks

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Banks is 36 years old and lives in Washington.

Nora Lyons Sauter

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Sauter is 39 years old and lives in Massachusetts.

We’re not poor, but we don’t have resources like that. His teachers, aides, and his school principals have pushed for inclusion, the least restrictive environment, and even when I’ve been nervous, they’ve been right. They want him to succeed. Betsy DeVos does not.

Lourdes Smith

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Smith is 40 years old and from Arizona, ranked fourth worst in the nation for education and 49 for pupil-to-teacher ratio.

Kristi Rieger Campbell

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Campbell is 48 years old and lives in Virginia.

Giving us a voucher to pay for Ciara to go to a charter school would effectively deny her any education. It's not about giving a student the money to attend a better school, it's about supporting the schools in providing the services each child needs. In our case, the best private schools would be the worst choice for Ciara.

Alison Mulderrig

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Mulderrig lives in California.