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Government's Special Education Website Is Back After Prolonged Outage

Betsty-Devos-Confirmation-Hearing-Blog.jpgThe website idea.ed.gov, a site hosted by the U.S. Department of Education that includes text of the federal special education law and other resources, is up and running again after a prolonged outage that sparked worry on the part of some in the special education community and queries from members of Congress.

A message dated Feb. 16 on the site said that all the resources available prior to Feb. 8 had been restored. That includes the text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, its accompanying regulations, and guidance documents, webinars, and videos that delved into finer points of the law. 

 In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said: 

This IDEA.ed.gov site and its server hosting IDEA.ed.gov were neglected for nearly four years. This behavior is unacceptable. The restored IDEA.ed.gov site has been moved to a new server, and I've instructed department staff to begin working with stakeholders to build a new and improved site. This exercise is an example of complacency I won't accept, and I remain committed to improving the department and its services.

The department also offered a timeline of how the glitchy website went down. The server hosting the site crashed on Feb. 8, a statement said, and "that evening the site was redirected to a page hosting the most pertinent information. Thorough testing indicated the existing server was not stable and the department began moving files to a viable hosting solution. An exhaustive review of the site found numerous links and resources outdated, with the last update to the site dating back to 2013." 

Earlier statements from the Education Department had said the website had been down at least since Jan. 27, before DeVos' confirmation on Feb. 7.  I noted on Feb. 1 that the website had been unvailable for at least a few days. 

While the old website was out, users were redirected to a newer website that included more up-to-date information, including recent guidance from the Education Department and letters from department officials to states and constituents. That website will remain, the Education Department said.

The disappearance and restoration of the website would not affect the IDEA itself, which Congress passed in 1975 and can only be changed by Congress. But the issue took on a heightened level of importance after DeVos' confirmation hearing, which angered and worried some disability advocates because of what they saw as her unfamiliarity with the civil rights law that covers more than 6 million students with disabilities ages ages 3-21. 

The website outage also drew some attention from Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats from Washington, who sent a letter to DeVos asking for more information about the outage and steps the department would take to stop it from happening again. 

In a statement after the website was restored, Murray said:

I was very concerned when I saw that the resource website for parents and teachers of students with disabilities had gone down, and still hadn't been fixed after three weeks. I heard from parents who had been impacted by the absence of this critical resource, and I pushed Secretary DeVos to get it back up, to explain what had happened, and to make sure nothing like it happened again. I am glad that the website appears to be back online, but I am going to continue monitoring this issue and working to make sure that the Department of Education is doing everything possible to protect every student and make sure they have every opportunity to learn.

Photo: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Jan. 17.—T.J. Kirkpatrick/Redux for Education Week


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