You may recall the case of Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, in which the parents of an autistic child and the Douglas County schools of Colorado got into an argument about "de minimis" aka "how little education can a district get away with providing." Did Endrew's IEP require the district to pay for his tuition to a swanky school that provided fancy stuff like "education"? Somehow this made it all the way to the Supremes, who unanimously ruled sort of down the middle-- school district compliance with IDEA has to be more than a half-baked half effort, but education experts get to be the experts on education, not Mom and Dad.
The whole business now has a sequel, starring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Remember that time DeVos was being interviewed for her job and she didn't really seem to understand what IDEA actually was? Specifically, didn't seem clear on whether schools receiving federal funds would be required to follow the federal IDEA law?
Oh-- and remember that time when she called Historically Black Colleges and Universities "pioneers of school choice"? Which was kind of like calling the underground railroad pioneers of Uber?
Well, both of those moments had a sequel this week as reported by Ann Schimke for Chalkbeat. There are two take-aways here. One is not so big, and one kind of is.
First, the F family was none too happy about being used as props for one more DeVos love letter to school choice.
“Every family should have that ability to choose the learning environment that’s right for their child,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the Supreme Court to get it.”
Remember that DeVos quote. The Fs, Joe and Jennifer, were not pleased.
“To hold us out there as a poster child on how a private school is
working for our child and how this is how school choice is supposed to
work, really bugs me,” Joe said.
“It was a little disappointing,” Jennifer said. “She picked the parts that she liked and used them for what she wanted.”
Now to the bigger takeaway. Turns out that the Fs had actually met DeVos, privately, at her request.
They were flattered by her interest, but felt she didn’t understand why
private school vouchers would never work for them — or many other
families who have children with disabilities.
Specifically, how a small voucher amount does not get you into a pricey specialized private school like the one Endrew attends. But according to the Fs, they raised an even larger issue, and DeVos gave them a straight, if not welcome, answer.
Do students with disabilities lose their rights to a fair and
appropriate education — a guarantee under the 1975 Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act — if they use vouchers to attend private
Yes, DeVos said.
“She answered point blank,” Joe said.
So in the DeVosian voucher world, choice schools do get to pick and choose which students they will serve-- or not serve. The USED would not require recipients of federal dollars (which given a Education Savings Account approach to vouchers would be cleansed of their federal taint) to obey federal law.
The huge irony here? DeVos doesn't think parents should have to sue somebody to have their child's needs met, but in a voucher world, parents like the Fs would not be able to sue anybody. School choice would mean that the school could choose to show Endrew the door. School choice would mean that parents would have to give up their rights in return for their voucher. It's a reminder that school choice and the privatization of education is largely about stripping citizens of the right to a free and appropriate public education. Voucher and choice systems aren't just a different delivery system-- they represent a fundamental change in our educational mission as a country. And that's a lot less than de minimis.