Archives for category: Special Education

The Hasidic bloc of voters wields unusual political power in New York City and New York state, because the community tends to vote as a bloc. Rare is the elected official willing to challenge their large stream of public funding for their orthodox religious private schools. The New York Times has written previously about the significant flow of public money to their private schools (more than $1 billion over the past four years), and about the abysmal performance of students in those schools on the rare occasion when they take state tests. Many such schools do not teach in English and do not teach secular subjects, in blatant violation of state law.

The New York Times recently wrote in detail about the misuse of public money collected for special education services in Hasidic schools.

Less than a decade ago, New York City drastically changed the way it provided special education to thousands of children with disabilities.

State law requires cities to deliver those services to students in private schools, even if the government has to pay outside companies to do it. But for years, when parents asked, New York City officials resisted and called many of the requests unnecessary.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio changed course. Responding to complaints, especially from Orthodox Jewish organizations, he ordered the city to start fast-tracking approvals.

The policy has made it easier for some children with disabilities to get specialized instruction, therapy and counseling. But in Orthodox Jewish religious schools, particularly in parts of the Hasidic community, the shift has also led to a windfall of government money for services that are sometimes not needed, or even provided, an examination by The New York Times has found.

In 2014, New York made it easier for private school students to receive city-funded special education. More than half of legal requests for aid last school year (as of March 14) came from areas with large Hasidic and Orthodox populations.

Dozens of schools in the Orthodox community have pushed parents to get their children diagnosed with disabilities, records and interviews show. At least two schools have sent out mass emails urging families to apply for aid. A third school provided parents with a sample prescription to give their children’s doctors, saying a diagnosis would bring more resources for the school.

Today, at Hasidic and Orthodox schools, which are called yeshivas, higher percentages of students are classified as needing special education than at other public and private schools in New York City, a Times analysis of government data found.

In the fervently religious Hasidic community, where Yiddish is the dominant language, schools focus on teaching Jewish law and prayer, while often providing little secular education in English. The Times found that at 25 of the city’s approximately 160 Hasidic yeshivas, more than half of the students are classified as needing special education. Records show the classifications are routinely justified by citing the students’ struggles with English.

Across all city schools, one in five students is classified as having a disability. There is little research into whether disabilities occur more frequently in the Hasidic community than in others.

With money more easily available, entrepreneurs with few qualifications have made millions providing services in yeshivas. More than two dozen different companies have opened in the past eight years, records show. Some of them now bill more than $200 an hour per student — five times the government’s standard rate — for what is essentially tutoring.

Some companies have been allowed to collect more than $100,000 a year for providing part-time tutoring services to a single student with mild learning challenges, The Times found.

At least 17 companies have employed people with questionable credentials to provide services, often paying them a fraction of the hourly rate that the firms collect from the city. While some companies provide quality services, others rely on programs that quickly churn out graduates with master’s degrees, some of whom are as young as 18.

“There are a lot of kids in the ultra-Orthodox community who have disabilities. The problem is that the community is not serving the students,” said Elana Sigall, a former top city special education official, who now visits yeshivas as a consultant. “They’re accessing tremendous amounts of city resources, but they’re not actually providing special education.”

One of the firms that opened soon after Mr. de Blasio changed the rules, Yes I Can Services, founded by a husband and wife who had scant education experience, now collects tens of millions of dollars a year.

By law, families who want the government to pay a private company to provide services must make their case against the city in a legal proceeding overseen by an impartial hearing officer. But as requests have increased, officials say they have stopped policing them. Families filed nearly 18,000 requests last year — with more than half coming from neighborhoods with large Hasidic and Orthodox populations — but officials waved through most of them.

In all, more than $350 million a year now goes to private companies that provide services in Hasidic and Orthodox schools, The Times found…

“Cases involving nonpublic schools have ballooned so wildly that they have engulfed and hobbled the entire system,” said John Farago, a longtime hearing officer who has overseen thousands of requests. “It’s affected the access to justice of all, and swamped the cases of children who attend public schools.”

A reader who signs as “Wait, What” left the following comment:

Dear Florida Woke Police:

You must ban these documents and prominent figures’ quotes from our schools’ textbooks and bookshelves immediately! They are clear examples of content woke schools teaching of “systemic injustices in our society”

Abraham Lincoln
“There is no greater injustice than to wring your profits from the sweat of another man’s brow.” –

George W. Bush
“Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country.

We have often underestimated how radical that quest really is, and how our cherished principles challenge systems of intended or assumed injustice.” –

P.L. 94-142
“more than half of the handicapped children in the United
States do not receive appropriate educational services which
would enable them to have full equality of opportunity”

National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
They stated that the interests of women and men were generally the same, and that women were not “suffering from any injustice” that having the vote would change. They also believed that women and men had different duties in the government, as they did in the home, and that the woman suffrage movement was a “backward step in the progress of civilization.”

Attorney General Eric Holder – 2009 on The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009

It also creates a new federal criminal law which criminalizes willfully causing bodily injury (or attempting to do so with fire, firearm, or other dangerous weapon) when:

(1) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person or (2) the crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person and the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction.

Abraham Lincoln, speech on Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, 1854
This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself.*

And, the granddaddy of them all..
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice…”

*Continuation of Lincoln’s statement on Missouri Compromise – HA! TAKE THAT GOP – ah, the foreshadowing of the last phrase about “self-interest”

“…I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world — enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites — causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty — criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.”

The effects of the pandemic show themselves in every survey of post-pandemic behavior, among students and adults. The pandemic isn’t over but the isolation and anxiety it produced had long-lasting effects.

Dorothy Siegel, Elise Cappella and Kristie Patten describe what they call “a better way” to help students with disabilities.

On December 1, 2022, New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks announced a path forward for transforming and rebuilding trust in the city’s programs serving students with disabilities. This plan includes the sustaining and scaling of four successful and innovative programs serving students with disabilities across the city, the creation of a new paid internship program for high school students in Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy for students with IEPs, as well as the empowerment of families and community through a new advisory council that will make bold recommendations on reimagining special education in the New York City Public Schools.

This announcement demonstrates the city’s commitment to address the systemic and historic marginalization of students with IEPs, a marginalization that has disproportionately impacted the city’s Black and Brown students with IEPs.

A recent Chalkbeat article, “Public schools are NYC’s main youth mental health system. Where kids land often depends on what their parents can pay,” exposed to public view the growing number of New York City students with serious mental healthissues and behavioral problems that get in the way of their education. Because New York State has inadequately funded mental health services, the onus falls on local school districts, which don’t have the option to turn students away. “The entire state of New York has shifted the burden of mental health to the school districts,” said a social worker quoted in the article.

Under federal law, school districts must provide all students with disabilities, including those with mental health and behavioral problems, a “free and appropriate public education.” And many such students in New York City do receive a high-quality education with therapeutic supports in the public schools.

But serious inequities abound. As Chalkbeat noted, in the New York City public schools,

Black boys get classified with emotional disabilities at a far higher rate than other kids. In the 2020-2021 school year . . . Black students made up less than a quarter of students overall, yet they accounted for nearly half of students classified as having an emotional disability. White students, who made up 15% of all students in New York City public schools, accounted for just 8% of emotional disability classifications.”

As we can see, Black students, especially boys, are overwhelmingly overrepresented in the emotional disability classification. This matters because students with this classification have much worse outcomes than other students. As per Chalkbeat, in 2020-21 only 12% of students classified with an emotional disability received a Regents diploma in four years, compared to 73% of all New York City students.

For decades, New York City students who are classified with an emotional disability have found themselves on a path to highly segregated classrooms and schools, and, ultimately, limited life options. Neighborhood schools are not able to meet the needs of such challenging students, especially in inclusive settings. A recent report by NYU Research Alliance for NYC Schoolsstated that in 2016-17 only 33% of students with an emotional disability were served in an inclusive setting, compared to 66% of students with all disabilities. These young people often drop out and may fall into the juvenile justice system.

In the past few years, an increasing number of students with mental health and behavioral problems, no doubt exacerbated by two years of Covid, are showing up at the schoolhouse door. Of these, some find their way to private schools whose tuitions arepaid by the public school system – close to $1 billion in the last school year alone for students with autism, learning disabilities or mental health/behavioral issues.

Predictably, the overwhelming majority of these private school students are White and hail from more advantaged backgrounds. According to the Chalkbeat analysis, most students who are able to attend private schools on the public dime “live in just four of the richest and whitest districts,” including the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Park Slope in Brooklyn. As noted above, racially disparate classification is onemajor inequity in the system. But another is family wealth.

Clearly, New York State can and must do more, especially the restoration and rebuilding of mental health services for children and adolescents with mental health and behavioral issues.

But there is much that the New York City public school system can do as well, in particular at the beginning of a child’s educational journey. Students at risk of being classified with an emotional disability can and should be diverted from that drop-out/juvenile justice path onto a much better life path, as early as possible.

There IS a better way: The Path Program.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE), in close collaboration with researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development (NYU), have developed a better way to educate these students: the Path program, which is based on the highly successful ASD Nest Program for autistic students. Path, like Nest, is a comprehensive, cohesive, collaborative, fully inclusive program that serves students at risk of an emotional disability (ED) classification. Path redirects these students onto a more hopeful path.

ASD Nest Program

The ASD Nest Program has developed over the past twenty years as a collaboration between the DoE and NYU. Launched in 2003, the DoE’s ASD Nest Program works with autisticstudents who are capable of doing grade-level academic work. The goal is to help these students develop competence in their academic, social and behavioral functioning, in order to realize their full, unique potential as independent and fulfilled adults.

In the 2022-23 school year, 69 New York City public schools are educating approximately 1,700 ASD students in 350+ integrated co-taught K-12 classrooms. The vast majority of Nest students stay in the program through twelfth grade, where 95% of Nest high schoolers graduate with a Regents diploma.

Path Program:

The Path program promotes the inclusion of students with emotional disabilities within community schools and strives to disrupt the historical segregation of Black and brown children in restrictive special education settings. The program employs many of the same evidence-based principles, practices, and structures developed for the Nest program, with the addition ofevidence-based trauma-informed and social-emotional learning strategies known to work well for students with this classification. Path classes are small co-taught integrated classes, with no more than four students classified with ED in each class, alongside twelve to twenty typically developing peers. Teachers provide the general education curriculum, using specialized supports and a variety of co-teaching models. With related services integrated into the day, Path classrooms incorporate supports typically provided by outside therapists to foster a safe environment in which Path students can comfortably interact with peers. Whole-class social, sensory, behavioral and academic strategies form a foundational level of support, consistent across all settings.

All school staff – teachers, therapists and administrators — receive high-quality pre- and in-service training and on-site support. Path staff meet weekly as a team to create comprehensive support plans for each student, which involve classroom and individual supports and family partnership.

The DoE piloted the model in one District 9 school in 2021-22 with a grant through the Fund for Public Schools. In 2022-23, the DoE opened four Path classrooms in three District 9 neighborhood schools: three kindergartens and one first grade class. Three more kindergarten classes will open this year in three other districts in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn, with the goal to eventually have Path programs in most NYC neighborhoods.

Path and Nest are two examples of the DoE’s “specialized programs,” differentiated program models for different disability categories. So far, the DoE has created specialized programs for students with autism (Nest and Horizon), emotional disabilities (Path), and intellectual disabilities (ACES). Importantly, all specialized programs – and their students — are fully integrated into their neighborhood school communities.

Over time, the ASD Nest Program has proven to be the program of choice for many, if not most, parents of autistic students, even those with the means to go to private school. The main admission requirement for Nest is an autism classification.

Similarly, Path is intended to level the playing field for Black and Brown students at risk of an emotional disability who don’t come from advantaged backgrounds. It is commendable that the DOE has chosen to invest in this research-based model – in some of the poorest community school districts in the city – to create inclusive pathways to school and life success.

With the chancellor’s commitment to the expansion of the ASD Nest and Path programs, the future looks much brighter for New York City’s students with significant disabilities.

Dorothy Siegel, Co-founder, ASD Nest Program

Elise Cappella, Professor of Applied Psychology, PI of NYU Path Program, NYU Steinhardt School

Kristie Patten, Professor, Department of Occupational Therapy,PI of NYU ASD Nest Support Project, Co-Investigator of NYU Path Program, NYU Steinhardt School

Jesse Hagopian, who is a veteran high school teacher in Seattle, writes here about the Seattle teachers’ strike:

Members of the Seattle Education Association—the union that represents Seattle’s teachers, nurses, librarians, instructional assistants, office professionals and educational support staff—voted Tuesday, September 6 to authorize a strike, which was triggered when the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) did not meet the just demands of the union. After SPS failed to even show up to the bargaining table on Friday and Saturday, about 95% of SEA members voted to authorize the strike, with some 75% of the members voting.

Wednesday, September 7th was supposed to have been the first day of school for 50,000 students who attend Seattle Public Schools—but the strike will close all of the schools until a contract is reached. The last time SEA went on strike was in 2015 when the union’s work stoppage won a visionary set of demands including, expanded racial equity teams, more recess time for students, an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, and small wage increases.

Again today, a rank-and-file upsurge spurred the union to vote to strike for, among other issues, maintaining “staffing ratios for special education and multilingual learners and that the district seeks more staff input as it aims to provide services for those students in general education classrooms.” In addition, the union is demanding more counselors, nurses, and to increasing the wages of classified staff—including instructional assistants—so that they can afford to live in Seattle, a city with one of the highest costs of living.

Open the link and read more.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Washington, Long Island, New York.

He writes:

My daughter Sadie has taught me more in her 9 years of life than I have learned in my past 52 years of existence. My wife Erin and I had no idea that our daughter had Down Syndrome when she was born. Sadie had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit for a few weeks and we met some of the most compassionate and amazing professionals in the world. Unfortunately, we also met others who were much better off keeping their thoughts to themselves.

I remember a doctor at the hospital telling me he was “sorry” after Sadie was born. On another occasion, a family member shared with my wife and I that “Mongoloids can be nice people.” She didn’t mean to upset us; it was her mental model about Down Syndrome. Initially, as parents we were surprised with the multitude of closed-minded comments we came across. As Sadie grew and we brought her to restaurants, stores or in public, people would stare at her longer than one should.

I’m sharing this with you not to complain; but doing so because we began to learn how the world can perceive others without knowing anything about them whatsoever, except through the lenses of their biases and assumptions. Little did they know our little Sadie has the best sense of humor and can read on grade level like here peers. She enjoys music and hanging out with her best friends like all children do. As parents, we began to advocate for more programs in her school and for the school districts we served in.

I probably should have started off this reflection by sharing both Erin and I are school Superintendent’s. She is an Assist Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I have served as a Superintendent of Schools for the past 11 years. Here are the lessons we learned from our personal lives that now transcend to our professional ones.

  1. You never know what others are going through. I have a much deeper respect for parents who have children with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, OHI, etc. They have incredible stories to share, and we need to support them as much as their children.
  2. Never place limits on your child or students. Don’t accept what professionals say at face value all the time. If Erin and I listened to what some professionals believed Sadie would never be able to do, her life would be so much more unfulfilled. She is flourishing.
  3. In the education system I have served in for over 25 years, we need to remove the word “special education”. This word places a label on a child that never leaves them and carries a negative connotation with it. Yes, the children are “special”, but they are certainly not less than “typical children”. By the way I loath that phrase as well.
  4. Inclusion is important. Integration however is critical. It’s great to be included but to be fully integrated is where the secret sauce is. Separating and segregating children is not the answer. Teach them to become independent and watch them soar!

Sadie is now in 4th grade. She continues to surprise people with her intelligence, humor and at times stubbornness. We are so fortunate to have her in our lives. There are other “Sadie’s” in every school in America. Are we as school leaders doing everything in our power to make our school system more inclusive and integrated? That’s for you to answer and my hope is that you strive to make that a reality. Every child will benefit from it.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a bully. He uses his power as Governor to force others to comply with his political ideology. Most recently, he forced the Special Olympics, which had chosen Florida for its competitions, to drop its vaccine requirement. This comes on the heels of an audit of Florida health data which found that the state had undercounted the numbers of COVID cases and deaths. Intentionally? DeSantis is probably the most likely Republican to run in 2024, if the aging Trump steps aside.

Rolling Stone and other publications reported the story:

Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and his administration have used their authority to essentially punish organizations he deems to be insufficiently conservative. One of their latest targets is the Special Olympics. Jay O’Brien of ABC News reported on Friday that the governor threatened to levy an eight-figure fine against the Special Olympics if it didn’t drop its Covid-19 vaccine requirement for its games in Orlando this weekend.

The Special Olympics backed off its vaccine requirement hours later, saying in a statement, “We don’t want to fight. We want to play.”

A letter from the Florida Department of Health dated June 2 threatened to assess the Special Olympics a $27.5 million fine due to “5,500 violations” of state law prohibiting business entities (including charitable organizations) from requiring individuals to show proof of vaccination. The applicable fine per person under this law is $5,000.

DeSantis is a dangerous ideologue who disregards science and the lives of his constituents.

The latest news from Florida is that there is an outbreak of a new strain of omicron COVID virus. Governor DeSantis doesn’t care if anyone is vaccinated. He believes that “public health” is a private, individual decision and that government should do nothing to protect the public.

Pamela Lang, a parent of a child with special-needs in Arizona, wrote for Public Voices for Public Schools about her terrible experience finding a school for her son.

She writes:

I may not look like your typical public school advocate. I’m not opposed to private schools, and I even use a voucher for my son. I’ve also always loved public schools and advocated for our elected representatives to do a better job of funding and resourcing these valuable community institutions. Frustratingly, I’ve watched as morally-bankrupt radical special interests have spent decades undermining our public schools, chipping away at them year after year, until they start to buckle under the shear strain.

I would love to enroll my son at our local community public school. But I live in Arizona and my son has special needs, meaning the resources to educate my child here had already been stripped away through a myriad of defunding schemes. So my school choices were taken from me and I had to look around and see what options there were to find an education for my son. It turns out that I was the one who got an education. An education in the realities of living in a state at the forefront of “school choice” with a child who has unique and resource-intensive needs.

I decided to withdraw my son from our public school and take an Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher to help find him a place where his needs would be best met. Because of his disability, he qualified for roughly $40,000 per year on Arizona’s ESA voucher program, enough to fully cover the tuition at almost any school in the state. So we had choices. Or, we thought we had choices.

An often overlooked aspect of these voucher programs is they end up being publicly-funded education discrimination programs. Everywhere we went we were told my son would not be a good fit for their school and we were discouraged from even applying. We visited highly-rated private academies that touted their resources for special needs students only to be told his needs were too great, or that they weren’t right for us, and that they ended their special needs enrollment, while others who demanded to view my son’s files beforehand refused to even see us.

This entire situation is exacerbated by the reality that people pushing these privatization schemes and destroying public schools also require families like mine to give up federal protections for their children, as I had to do for my son because of his needs. We had to waive our federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) rights to be allowed to use the vouchers, meaning any private school that did accept him wasn’t legally required to provide him with adequate services. These issues could be addressed simply with minor legislation, but the lawmakers pushing these vouchers, while often parading special needs families around as the face of their privatization campaigns, have shown no interest in fixing these obvious problems. And that’s because they don’t really care about us. They didn’t care about my son when they diminished our public school’s capacity to care for and educate him, and they don’t care about my son when he’s using their prized vouchers.

We eventually found a microschool, one of the latest privatization schemes, that would take my son, only to find they were essentially abandoning him throughout the day and providing negligently minimal supervision, and this took us almost three years of continual searching to find.

It’s almost impossible to understand the environment that these “choice” programs create for desperate families. The amount of work I’ve had to invest just trying to find a private school simply willing to let my son in their doors has been exhausting. And that’s in addition to all the other resources necessary to make a private school work. I have to provide or secure transportation every day my son is in school. The workload is a lot for any family to take on, and in some cases the assault on public schooling is driving us to have no satisfying options.

The expansion of Torchlight Academy Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in trouble. Despite their mishandling and misreporting of students in special education, their financial irregularities and missing records, they are still in business. The state charter board has closed two of their charters, but others are still operating, and Torchlight hopes to add more charters. One–the Three Rivers Academy–was closed in January after numerous deficiencies were identified. According to NC Policy Watch:

Don McQueen, operator of Three Rivers Academy, allegedly padded enrollment numbers, paid families so students would attend class, and took other extreme measures to ensure state per-pupil funds kept flowing to the troubled charter school in Bertie County.

The fate of another charter school run by the same management company will be decided at a meeting tonight of the state charter school board.

Station WRAL reports:

A state advisory board will discuss Monday the fate of a 600-student Raleigh charter school that is under fire for for its handling of special education programming.

Monday’s meeting will be the latest in a string of tense meetings with state charter school officials for Donnie McQueen, executive director of Torchlight Academy Schools. In less than a year, the state has revoked charters for two of his schools because of violations.

The meeting will take place just days after records show the state was still waiting for Torchlight Academy to produce financial and contractual records — including records that would be legally public for traditional public schools but that are not legally public for public charter schools…

The school is on the highest level of state noncompliance status, following state findings that the school had been “grossly negligent” in its oversight of the exceptional children program, also known as special education. The state is now overseeing, but not controlling, school finances.

The State Board of Education asked the Charter School Advisory Board to review:

  • Potential misuse of federal and state funds, including grant funds.
  • Governance concerns, including a lack of oversight.
  • Potential conflicts of interest by its principal and executive director — Cynthia and Donnie McQueen. Specifically, whether their actions on behalf of or in lieu of board of directors or management organization have benefited them personally…

The school has posted average performance grades and academic growth in recent years.

Last year, the state found the school didn’t properly implement the program as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, altered and falsified student records, falsely reported training compliance, did not provide adequate access to student and finance records, and had unqualified staff.

The school protested being moved to the highest level of noncompliance, citing new training for staff and other changes the school was making to improve.

Officials complained of the voluminous records requested by the state and argued it was being treated differently than others schools…

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not subject to the same public disclosure laws as traditional public school districts. For example, charter schools don’t have to make employees’ salaries public. They also don’t need to disclose contracts, such as a lease contract.

The records the state sought related to financial documents included any records between the school or Torchlight Academy Schools and three organizations owned by other school officials.

Torchlight Academies currently manages two charters and hopes to manage another five.

Based on an appeal by parents of students with disabilities, a Federal Appeals Court supported mask mandates in school.

Federal Appeals Court Decision Ensures Iowa Schools Can Require Masking to Protect Students with Disabilities


Eva Lopez, ACLU,

Veronica Fowler, ACLU of Iowa,, cell: 515-451-1777

DES MOINES, Iowa — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires schools to impose universal masking rules where necessary to ensure students with disabilities have access to public school education.

The decision comes in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa, Disability Rights Iowa, The Arc of the United States, Arnold & Porter, and Duff Law Firm, P.L.C. on behalf of The Arc of Iowa and 11 parents of children with disabilities. The Eighth Circuit held that the clients are entitled to a preliminary injunction to ensure that the defendant school districts in Iowa are providing for universal masking as a reasonable accommodation so that students with disabilities can go to school safely.

“The Eighth Circuit affirmed what we’ve known to be true from the start: School mask mandate bans are discriminatory and illegal,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program. “To be able to attend schools safely, many students with disabilities need their schools to require masks. At a time when COVID-19 is ravaging our communities once again, this decision ensures that schools can continue to take basic public health precautions like requiring universal masking to protect their students.”

A federal district court in September enjoined the state from barring mask mandates, recognizing that “forcing children to bear the brunt of societal discord is ‘illogical and unjust.’” The state then appealed that decision, resulting in today’s ruling.

“Today’s decision is an important victory for the civil rights of children with disabilities in Iowa, who have a right to go to school with their peers,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. “No parent should have to choose between their child’s health and safety and their education, but that is the terrible position that the state put our clients in. It’s important to note that the court’s reasoning also means that even schools that are not named in the lawsuit should be requiring masks when needed to accommodate students with disabilities so they can go to school with their peers. This decision is a huge relief to families across our state.”

The groups are arguing in the lawsuit that federal civil rights laws require schools to be able to require universal masking to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education.

The following are additional comments from:

Shira Wakschlag, senior director, legal advocacy and general counsel at The Arc of the United States:

“In the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge, the court is making it clear that students with disabilities have the right to go to school safely during this pandemic. The Arc will continue fighting to ensure that students with disabilities in Iowa and nationwide are able to attend their neighborhood schools alongside their peers without putting their health and their lives at risk.”

Catherine E. Johnson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa:

“I welcome today’s ruling that universal masking as an accommodation is both reasonable and necessary for students with disabilities to attend school in-person safely during the ongoing pandemic. This ruling comes during a time when Iowa is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases throughout the state. We are hopeful this opinion provides relief, confidence and clarity for parents, students, and schools to work collaboratively to restore our students’ long established civil rights under federal law and safely return our students with disabilities to their schools.”

This release is available online here:

Texas has gone overboard for charter schools, even though they consistently post worse results than public schools. In the state’s new plans, charter schools will not be held accountable for the performance of English-language learners or students with disabilities. That is grossly unfair to public schools but it should raise the ratings of charter schools.

A trusted friend who works for the Texas Education Agency sent this information:

The proposed Texas Charter School Performance Framework for 2020 has been posted for public comment. On page 19, in the Operations standards, “Program requirements: Special populations” and “Program requirements: Bilingual education/English as a second language populations” are marked as “N/A for 2020” instead of each counting for one point. These indicators, 3b and 3c, are struck out on page 20. There does not appear to be an explanation for these changes.
Appropriate handling of assessments is another deletion from the Operations standards on pages 23-24.
Due to the lack of academic accountability, the manual will reflect fiscal and operational indicators only, not academic indicators.

There are no academic indicators, which makes sense because there were no tests in 2020. But the state officials removed the program indicators for bilingual and special education populations from the Operations standards on which charter schools will still be rated. These indicators measure if charters meet program requirements such as employing certified teachers in these areas.

This is not the only exception made for charter schools. Those that get a D or F rating three years in a row are supposed to be closed by the state, but that accountability is seldom enforced. Indeed, the state allows failing charters to expand.