DeVos Weighs Waivers for Special Education. Parents Are Worried

Updated: May 19, 2020

This article originally appeared in the New York Times on 4/2/2020 by Erica L. Green.

WASHINGTON — Tucked away in the $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization bill is a provision that allows Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to seek congressional approval to waive parts of the federal special education law while schools combat the coronavirus pandemic. How she might use that authority scares parents like Jennifer Gratzer, who lives in Seattle. It took a 350-page complaint and hours of work for Ms. Gratzer to get the proper special education services for her 10-year-old son, a nonverbal third grader who has epilepsy and a condition called cortical visual impairment. He has made progress with services like occupational therapy, speech therapy and a one-on-one aid, afforded to special-needs students like him under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But Ms. Gratzer fears that Ms. DeVos may relieve her son’s school district of such obligations for the foreseeable future.

“No one wants to do the hard thing unless they’re forced to do it,” Ms. Gratzer said, “and our kids have always been the hard thing.”

With the closure of schools across the country, parents like Ms. Gratzer have found themselves in an educational crisis like none seen since the disabilities law passed in 1975. Today, it grants nearly seven million students individualized instruction and a vast array of educational support and services.

Schools are scrambling to shift classes online as more than 55 million children stay at home. For now, that has upended special education, which is administered through meticulously devised plans called Individualized Education Programs, or I.E.P.s, which require extensive services that are not easily tr