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Special Education Needs Rethinking, Says Top Education Department Official

Johnny-Collett-confirmation-hearing-article.jpgStates, school districts, and parents know the needs of students with disabilities better than the federal government does, and the job of the Education Department is to offer "flexibility and support" to states as they implement their special education programs, says a statement released Thursday from the head of the office of special education and rehabilitative services. 

"No two children are the same, so no two children's learning experiences should look the same," said Johnny W. Collett, who was appointed head of OSERS in January. "A personalized, student-centered education empowers students with disabilities and gives them the hope of living successful, independent lives, while a one-size-fits-all approach to education only limits students' potential. Each child's education should embrace his or her diverse traits and aspirations.

 Among the additional priorities for the department outlined by the department: changing policies or practices that put the needs of a system over an individual, and challenging mindsets that appear intent on preserving the status quo. 

The statement doesn't offer a ton of specifics. But they could be read as a mission statement that explains some of the department's most noteworthy moves in special education—for example, delaying by two years the implementation of Obama-era rules that would have told states how to calculate if they had too many minority students enrolled in special education.

"Any policy that could deny education services to a student who needs them would be a failed policy," Collett wrote in the statement. "So we must root out anything that separates students from the individualized education they deserve." 

Photo: Johnny Collett speaks during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in 2017.—Susan Walsh/AP-File


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