Dr. Cardona Goes to Washington

The hearing of Dr. Miguel Cardona was certainly not as explosive as the last one for Ed Secretary, but what can advocates expect if he is confirmed?

I love teachers.

This week I had the pleasure of witnessing a school district move forward with inclusive systems change. I have been with MCIE for nearly six months, and in that time I have seen firsthand how the process of change can be slow, but if it is methodical, structures and attitudes that have traditionally marginalized students with disabilities can become more inclusive.

I’ve told you that I used to be a skeptic. And, early in thinking about and deconstructing my views of education, I had this fear that if I started to go down this road of buying into inclusive education (that all really meant all), I would start to see the philosophy unravel.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The more I learned, and the more I experienced including my students with their non-disabled peers, the stronger I felt that the whole system needed to change.

Educators are among the most thoughtful and selfless people in the world. And I am proud to be among the ranks, even if my role is different now. And I can’t shake the feeling that if I can convince enough educators that reimagining an education system that benefits all students, not just those who learn the same, is better for everyone, we can finally see inclusive education move forward.

It is a wild dream. But I know I’m not alone.

The Confirmation Hearing of Dr. Miguel Cardona

This week, the Senate HELP Committee held confirmation hearings for Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. There was plenty of ground to cover, but the exchanges between him and the senators give us an idea of what direction he would steer the Department of Education. Here is a sample of some of the questions and answers from the hearing as it relates to disability and inclusion issues (presented without comment).

Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities

Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania): “Students with disabilities attend college at half the rate of their peers (those without disabilities) and they’re less likely to finish their program. Few students with learning disabilities inform their college that they have a disability, and many find the process to secure accommodations and services in colleges both difficult and unclear…How will you ensure that students with disabilities have access to post-secondary education, and how do you make sure that higher education institutions are prepared to support and provide services to students with disabilities?

Dr. Miguel Cardona: “Helping students gain access to higher education is a process that does require coordination and collaboration with our Pre-K through 12 systems…and the culture as not just looking at them as students with disabilities but students with assets, students with great abilities that have to learn a certain way or require accommodations. So I think that culture shift is a prerequisite to any technical strategies. With that said our agency would be poised to not only look for the best practices across the country where they are doing it right and where they are finding success and sharing those best practices but also ensuring that we’re looking at the universities, what outcomes they’re getting when serving students with disabilities, making sure we’re partnering with them and also keeping an eye on how our students with disabilities are fairing with these colleges.”

Civil Rights for Students Including Those Who are Transgender

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky): The Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to Connecticut saying that boys can't compete with girls in sports --Boys not being allowed to compete in girls’ sports. If you're confirmed will you enforce that civil rights opinion?

Dr. Miguel Cardona: Thank you for the question. I understand there is a lot of concerns about that. If confirmed, it is my responsibility and privilege to make sure we're following the civil rights of all students including activities they may engage in high school or athletics.

Sen. Paul: What do you think about boys running in girls’ track meets like they have been doing in Connecticut?

Dr. Cardona: I think it is critically important that education systems and educators respect the rights of all students, including those that are transgender, and they're afforded all the opportunities that every other student has to participate in extracurricular activities.

Sen. Paul: Does it bother you that like the top 20% of boys running in track beat all of the girls in the state and it would completely destroy girls’ athletics? The girls are being pushed out. If they don't meet the finals in the state meet, they don't get college scholarships, that it is really detrimental to girls’ sports. Do you worry about boys running in girls’ track meets?

Dr. Cardona: I recognize and appreciate the concerns and the frustrations that are expressed. As Commissioner of Education, I have had conversations with families who have felt the way you just described it. And families of students who are transgender. So, I understand that this is a challenge. I look forward to working with you and others--

Sen. Paul: Do you think it is fair to have boys running in the girl’s track meet?

Dr. Cardona: I think it is appropriate -- I think it is the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities and this includes students who are transgender.

Exclusion of Students of Color and Students with Disabilities

Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut): I want to talk about two issues unique to Meriden, Connecticut that are great to highlight for the country. One is the work that you have done there to reduce suspensions and expulsions. Next is the work that Meridian has done to promote a truly racially and economically diverse community and to talk about the benefit provided to students by going to school in a diverse environment. I’m a believer that the federal government should move more quickly to reduce the school to prison pipeline. That we should be encouraging states to use less exclusionary discipline meaning kicking kids out of school as a means to try to make schools safer. What have you done -- and you lead this effort in Meridian, what did you do to reduce the use of suspensions and expulsions that made your schools safer places.

Dr. Miguel Cardona: It's hard to learn if you're being excluded from the learning environment. Efforts to reduce exclusionary practices are critical. And to do this you have to engage students as partners in the process. Engaging student voice and giving them an opportunity to communicate their experience and how their learning is best and what struggles they're having in their learning environment. You mentioned restorative practices. Making sure that when issues arise that we're looking at a learning opportunity for our students and bringing a stronger sense of community as a result. So restorative practice was something we did in Meriden but also monitoring. I know you talked about accountability and monitoring. If we're not looking at our data by race, but socioeconomic status, by free and reduced lunch, by students with disabilities. We have to be open and honest about what we are doing and what the results are and are they different for different students, and then we have to be honest about building capacity for our educators, for our schools, and our systems to make sure we're addressing it intentionally.

Sen. Murphy: One of the things you will be immediately presented with is an executive order around school discipline policies that included a lot of incentives for data collection. I hope you will take a hard look at reimplementing all or part of that. It tends to be students of color and students with disabilities that end up being excluded from school more so than their white or nondisabled peers. Talk about the benefit of Meriden’s diverse school community. I have legislation that would set up a federal grant to support voluntary school integration programs, racial integration programs, and economic integration programs and I have always been struck in visiting Meriden how the kids themselves are so conscious of the benefit they get from going to middle schools and high schools where they have economic and racial diversity. I have talked a lot to kids that moved from less diverse communities, either all-white communities, or communities with almost exclusively students of color, and they, themselves, have their eyes open. Why is that important to Meriden’s success?

Dr. Cardona: So I’m a big believer in not only curriculum providing a window into other cultures or a mirror into your own culture, but I also believe the environment, having a diverse environment is a better environment. Diverse perspective, diverse backgrounds, there is a level of a celebration of differences which, if we can get our students to graduate school with a celebration of differences, they will be much more successful in the global economy that we're in. It is definitely a benefit and it is something that in my home community and I have benefitted from and my children do as well.


Report: COPAA Advocates to Outlaw Restraint and Seclusion Nationwide

As you would hopefully suspect, there is no evidence that restraint and seclusion provide any educational or therapeutic benefit to children.  And the use of these methods in non-emergency situations poses significant physical and psychological danger to anyone involved. Currently, there are no federal laws or regulations addressing the use of restraint and seclusion, unlike for law enforcement officials and mental health facilities. In addition, there is no prohibition of these harmful practices under the IDEA. And once restraint or seclusion has occurred, it is nearly impossible for there to be a sufficient remedy pursuant to the IDEA, the U.S. Constitution, or criminal law. There is simply no reason not to have federal legislation to protect students with and without disabilities.


Special Educators Aren't the Only Ones Who Should Be Advocating for Inclusive Education

Last month, the Council for Exceptional Children published an article called “Special Educators in Inclusive Settings: Take Steps for Self-Advocacy!” by Wendy Murawski and Claire Hughes.

I want to commend the CEC and the authors for addressing the topic of special education teachers advocating for inclusive education. As a special educator for 16 years, I understand the struggle of trying to advocate for my students in a system that wasn’t inclusive.

But here is what leaves me scratching my head about framing educator self-advocacy as a solution for moving inclusive education forward.

This article's recommendations put the burden to make inclusive education work on the teacher, which is entirely unfair. They have the least amount of power as a change agent. I would have rather seen an article written that fleshes out the idea of an “inclusion task force.” Or how school administrators and educators can work together to create inclusive systems change.


Sia’s Upcoming Movie Isn’t the Disability Representation People Asked For

Although some, including attorney, author, artist, and autism advocate Haley Moss, admitted to be “happy to see the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC),” she also thought “like much of media, it focuses on the neurotypical gaze, or representing autistic stories through a neurotypical perspective and lens.”

Kayla Rodriguez, an advocate who is on the board for the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network (AWN) and likes to refer to herself as a “Puerto Rican autistic lesbian,” agrees.

“We should be representing ourselves,” Rodriguez said. “We should be in charge of our own stories. But instead our stories are being told by people who think they know us when they really don’t… Sia doesn’t see us as people to represent, she sees us as people to feel sorry for.”


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