Florida's board of education destroyed opportunities for disabled students in just 6 minutes

Florida's board of education destroyed opportunities for disabled students in just 6 minutes
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. William Buchanan)
Gov. Ron DeSantis, commander in chief of the Florida National Guard, addresses the crowd during a change of command ceremony at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center on April 6. During the ceremony U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James Eifert assumed command from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, who retired after 36 years of service
Just when you think the state of Florida can't possibly do more harm to their own residents, we find that new rules instituted for this school year—rules that took all of six minutes to pass—are wrecking the lives and opportunities of students with severe disabilities.

Gov. Ron DeSantis took up a considerable amount of time this summer demanding changes to educational tools to stop teaching about racism. The governor contended that legislators know better, and therefore, stopping critical race theory—a subject educators aren't teaching at these levels, though they do teach history—was of high priority. What wasn't a priority in the state board of education meeting was special need students. After a lengthy debate on critical race theory, it took only six minutes, with only one public speaker, to permanently change the way disability education works in Florida, an act that disability advocates believe was as harmful as stripping people of access to their wheelchairs.

The policy Florida enacted can only be summarized in one word: cruel. Florida faced a problem where just over 1% of their students fell into the category of special education, which is a cap that the federal government has set under the Every Student Succeeds Act. So how do you fix this problem?

DeSantis and Florida's board of education had an idea: Kick the students out of special education, make them get IQ tests, and then see if after two grading periods they can succeed in mainstream education.

Matthew Cooley was a student with most of the common problems that come with autism. Like most parents of autistic children (myself included), we know how beautiful and thoughtful our own children can be, and that they can accomplish great things if given a chance. What is needed will be a different kind of opportunity for what comes next after education. Instead of being offered that chance to start sooner, Cooley found that under the new Florida policy, he would have to be mainstreamed for two grading periods before he could go back into special education.

Children with autism who are mainstreamed often suffer bullying and an erosion of confidence in their own ability to succeed. They don't move forward—they regress instead.

Six minutes was all it took to change the lives of families across Florida. Six minutes to demand IQ tests and the humiliation of putting a child through a test designed to prove to them that they are "less than." Six minutes to think about subjecting students to bullying. Six minutes to deprive classrooms of students of fair and free access to a public education—unless the goal is to mainstream students to drive more wealthy families to go to private schools. Six minutes to take away months of learning you can't get back.

Students ask for our love, our care, and our compassion. Six minutes was all the time they were afforded. Don't worry: Fighting back against masks or teaching the history of racism? I'm sure days and days were spent on those matters.

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