Senator Casey Is Right: Congress Must Help Students With Disabilities | Opinion


By Toby Tomlinson Baker, Ph.D.

I have been an early and outspoken advocate, in the pages of PennLive and elsewhere, of the concept of improving support for students with disabilities from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and extending those supports into college. While this may seem like a useful, if not obvious, policy, it has “fallen through the cracks” of federal law and uneven administration at the college and university level.

I am happy to say that Senator Robert Casey has incorporated this concept into his reintroduced new legislation called the RISE (React, Innovate, Support and Empower) Act. While this legislation covers a number of topics, I want to stress in particular that it provides for the “travel” of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) from high school to college and requires higher education institutions to do so. to honour. As I have pointed out in my writing on this topic, it is time for colleges and universities to be consistent and achieve the high standards that under the RISE Act would be mandatory.

We all know students with disabilities, and we may even know a student with a disability who graduated from high school and will be transitioning to college this fall, in person or virtually. A crucial aspect of their transition to college is knowing their Individual Education Plan or IEP.

Freshmen with disabilities may have previously had Individual Education Plans or IEPs when they were in K-12 schools. Since the transition to college, their IEPs have been discontinued and are no longer active because IEPs do not “travel” to college with students with disabilities. Higher education institutions in the United States do not honor IEPs or individual student accommodation as specified by the Disability Education Act (IDEA).

But recently Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the RISE Act which focuses on helping students with disabilities in higher education. Not only with the IEP be approved the documentation, but the colleges would be responsible and responsible for welcoming students with disabilities.

Most universities use ADA. The ADA does not guarantee a specific academic plan (no IEP) for the implementation of academic accommodations. In addition, colleges often incorporate what they call “academic adjustments” into their programs. Academic adjustments requested by a SWD may be refused by any US institution as it can legitimately claim a difficulty in providing accommodation and the university is not obligated to make any changes to their programs.

Ironically, a separate and more recent law, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HEOA) states that institutions and faculty will meet the academic needs of post-secondary students with disabilities. However, HEOA has not been accepted or adopted by US colleges and universities and they still use ADA. As a result, post-secondary students with disabilities may not be receiving the accommodations they need and deserve.

But the RISE law will change that for colleges and institutions! The hike law will allow the student’s IEP to be used as an approved document during college.

But how difficult can it be to provide housing for a student with a disability? Many people assume that university professors would be extremely skilled in providing appropriate accommodations for all of their students. Nevertheless, it is not the case. In fact, in most universities, faculty development is optional, not required. But the RISE law allows for more funding, research and resources to support disabled post-secondary students.

This month, Senator Casey reintroduced a bill that should be passed! It is our job to urge our representatives in Congress to pass the RISE Act which will be used by all colleges and universities in the United States. Colleges and universities should welcome this policy because it allows them to reach a higher standard.

Toby Tomlinson Baker holds a doctorate. in Leadership and Special Education Policy from Pepperdine University. She teaches special education and is a teacher educator with the Los Angeles Unified School District. tobytomlinsonbaker.net.

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