Website for disabled kids disappears as DeVos takes office
A U.S. Department of Education website, empowering families of students with disabilities, has disappeared -- and already embattled Trump education chief Betsy DeVos may be to blame.
U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell want to know what happened to the vanished website, and have asked Education Secretary DeVos to put it back up.
The website was set up under President George W. Bush so educators, advocates and parents could get a "one-stop" explanation on the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), as well as know their rights under the disability law.
The resource has been inexplicably taken away. In a letter to DeVos -- whose confirmation both senators vocally opposed -- Cantwell and Murray explained:
"We are deeply concerned that prior to your confirmation and arrival at the Department, the centralized resource website for the IDEA became inaccessible to the public for more than a week, and is now redirecting people to a site for the Office of Special Education Programs.
The new website "lacks much of the information previously available," the senators wrote.
"The Department's failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities," the senators told DeVos.
DeVos was confirmed in a 51-50 Senate vote on Tuesday, with Vice President Mike Pence brought in to cast the tie-breaking vote.
The tenure of the Education Secretary, a Republican mega-donor who backs school vouchers and charter schools, got off to a rocky start Friday. Demonstrators for a time blocked DeVos' entrance to a Washington, D.C., middle school.
A national survey by Public Policy Polling, released Friday, showed DeVos with high name recognition, and a 27-49 percent disapproval rating among those polled. The Education Secretary is usually a low-profile Cabinet job.
The IDEA website has provided a service apart from debate over federal education policy.
The federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services has constantly updated the site as Congress passes new legislation and federal courts interpret IDEA.
As Murray and Cantwell explained:
"Recognizing the diversity of the students served under IDEA, the website has provided accessible and informative summaries of the law, training materials, sample educational forms, presentations for the public, and so many other user friendly resources."
President Trump has not been an advocate for disability rights. The future President famously mocked the physical disability of a New York Times reporter who asked him a question at a news conference.
Cantwell and Murray listed seven things they want DeVos to do, starting with: "Your assurance that this website will not be stripped down in any way during your tenure."
They asked for a "detailed timeline" of when resources previously available at the IDEA website became inaccessible to public view, and how those resources will again be offered to families and educators.
Most of all, the Washington senators want the information on the website back up and available.
They are holding DeVos' feet to the fire, asking for "a detailed plan for restoring the information previously available, including information bout citizens' rights under the disability act."
Murray and Cantwell are also asking DeVos to give a firm date by which the public can again access information that has been withdrawn.
Betsy DeVos had a very shaky Senate confirmation hearing, although Murray and other critics were given only five minutes to question the secretary-designate. She appeared particularly deficient in knowledge of the disability law.
She is getting a test less than 72 hours on the job.
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