Now that President Trump has been inaugurated, it is very likely that early this week the Senate will vote on his proposed cabinet members. PCB and other disability advocacy organizations have grave concerns about two of the nominees, Senator Jeff Sessions who has been nominated as Attorney General and Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education.
According to Senator Casey’s website: http://www.Casey.Senate.gov , Senator Casey has already stated that he will vote “NO” on both nominees.
Unfortunately, as of now, our other Senator, Pat Toomey intends to vote along party lines in support of these nominees.
It is vital that we let Senator Toomey know that we do not support these nominees and therefore, neither should he. It is imperative that sometime within the next two days every member of PCB along with our friends and family reach out to Senator Toomey and express our position—We want No’s for Sessions and DeVos.
Email him over the weekend through his website:
Or, call him first thing Monday morning at his Washington DC office: 202-224-4254
If you live out-of-state, please contact your Senators to demand “No” votes on these nominees.
Why do we want No’s for Sessions and DeVos? Please read on.
Senator Jeff Sessions:
Senator Sessions has a long record of limiting the rights of people with disabilities. We have fought hard for the ADA and equal access. A yes vote for Senator Sessions threatens everything we have achieved. How can we count on him to enforce disability rights policy as head of the Department of Justice when he’s repeatedly voted and spoken out against the rights of people with disabilities?
• In 2001, Sessions defended a Supreme Court decision to prevent people with disabilities from being able to sue states over ADA violations. His defense ran counter to other Republicans who expressed concerns about the Court’s ruling and its narrowing of the ADA.
• Sessions has repeatedly criticized IDEA, the federal law guaranteeing a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Sessions has instead supported the segregation of students with disabilities, remarking that the inclusion of students with disabilities is “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”
• In 2013, Sessions applauded the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder decision, which repealed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The decision impacted the rights of various marginalized groups, including those with disabilities
• Sessions opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which added sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities as protected classes under existing federal hate crimes law.
Combine Sessions lack of compassion for people with disabilities and enforcement of disability law with DeVos’ ignorance about IDEA requirements and enforcement, and the education of people who are blind and those with disabilities could revert back to the institutionalization of the 1970’s. This is no joke and of grave concern.
As you will read and hear from the excerpts below, which have been taken from her confirmation hearing with the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Ms. DeVos is woefully unqualified for this position. She lacks the most basic knowledge about the public education system. And what’s worse for the millions of students with disabilities is that she has no clue about what the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is nor how it should be enforced. Based on her comments, she believes the federal government has no place in public education. So, what does that mean for students with disabilities whose right to an education are guaranteed by federal law?
It means we need to call or email Senator Toomey’s office within the next two days to demand that he votes no’s for Sessions and DeVos.
http://Toomey.Senate.gov or 202-224-4254
The following text is excerpted from the transcript of the Senate Health,
Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on the nomination of Betsy
to serve as Secretary of Education that took place on Tuesday, January 17,
2017, at 5:00 pm Eastern time. These excerpts focus on questions related to
students with disabilities and, in particular, the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The text may contain transcription,
and grammatical errors. Links to video clips of each excerpt of the hearing
from the C-SPAN website are also included.
Link to Sen. Collins’ questions:
Sen. Collins: At what level of government do you believe that decisions
about charter schools and vouchers should be made � is that a federal role
Ms. DeVos: Thank you for that question. Let me say that I really enjoyed the
conversation we had in your office. Let me respond to your question about
federal versus state and local role by saying I absolutely support the fact
it is a state role and state decision what kind of offering there might be
with regards to choices and education. As we discussed in your office, Maine
has a unique situation with students attending school on islands and in
areas. To suggest that the right answer for Maine is the same as the right
answer for Indiana or any state is just not right, and I would not support a
federal mandate or federal role in dictating those.
Sen. Collins: I am glad to hear that. I have heard repeatedly from school
officials, whether its teachers or superintendents or school board members,
the single most important action the federal government could take would be
to fulfill the promise of the 1975 individuals with disabilities education
act, to fund 40% of the additional cost of educating a special needs child.
It has been many years since that law was passed. We have never come close
to the 40%. Would you commit to taking a look at the funding of the
department to see if we could do a better job of moving towards fulfillment
promise? That is an action that would help every single school district in
Ms. DeVos: Senator, absolutely I would commit to that if confirmed. I
actually think this is an area that could be considered for an approach that
be somewhat different, and that maybe the money should follow individual
students instead of going directly to the states. Again, I think that is
that we could discuss. I look forward to talking about that with the members
of this committee.
[Later in the hearing.]
Link to Sen. Hassan’s questions:
Senator Hassan. >> Thank you, Mr. Chair and ranking member Murray. I looking
forward — I look forward to working on this committee and appreciate the
opportunity to participate. Mrs. DeVos, it is nice to see you again. Thank
you for being here today, and your family as well. And I think all of us
share a commitment to public education and understand the essential nature
to our democracy. I would echo my colleagues’ call for another round at
of questioning, because I think our job here is not to talk about ideas but
actually to drill down to how things actually work in practice. And so, I
to talk about one of those situations you begin to touch on in my office
when we met. It has a little bit of what Senator Collins was talking about
terms of full commitment to our students with disabilities and what Senator
Cassidy was talking about in terms of access to quality education for
with dyslexia. My son, Ben, experiences very severe disabilities; he has
cerebral palsy. He cannot speak or use his fingers for a keyboard, he can�t
but he is smart and the best kid on earth, if I do say so myself. He got a
quality public education at our local school. He is a graduate of Exeter
high school in Exeter New Hampshire. The reason He got there because
countless advocates and champions before him worked so hard to make sure he
right to that education. And I am concerned that when students who
experience disabilities receive a publicly funded voucher to attend a
they often don’t receive adequate resources and in some cases have to sign
over their legal rights under the individuals with disabilities education
Do you think family should have a recourse in the courts if their child’s
education does not adequately meet his or her needs, whether it�s at a
where they get a voucher or a more tradition public school?
Ms. DeVos: Thank you, Senator, for that question. [�] Let me begin by saying
I appreciate and am thankful that you have had the opportunity with your son
ben to find the right setting for him and would advocate for all parents to
be able to have that opportunity to choose the right school for them.
[Sen. Hassan interrupts] Sen. Hassan: Actually, I had the opportunity to
send him to the same public school that my daughter went to, because law
that that school provide him resources that were never provided before that
law was passed because they were was hard. So the question is, will you
the law with regard to kids with disabilities if the voucher program did
allow them to go someplace else? And the school said, no, it is just too
we don’t want to do it.
DeVos: I think that there are great examples of programs that are already
underway in states. Ohio has a great program, and, in fact, Sam and his mom
here today, beneficiary of the John Peterson special needs
Sen. Hassan: I understand that. But excuse me for interrupting. What I am
asking you is, there is at least one voucher program in Florida which makes
sign away their rights before they can get that voucher. I think that is
fundamentally wrong, and I think it will mean that students with
cannot use a voucher system that a department under your leadership might
start. So I want to know whether you will enforce and whether you will make
that children with disabilities do not have to sign away their legal rights
before they can get that voucher should a voucher system be developed.
Ms. DeVos: I�d love to comment about the McKay program where I believe
31,000 students are taking advantage, and 93% of the parents utilizing the
are very, very pleased with it. As opposed to 30% —
Sen. Hassan: I am sorry but that is not the question I asked. For right now,
I will move on to one final question. I really do wish we had a second
Because There is a lot here that is critical to our students especially with
disabilities. With all due respect, Ms. DeVos, has not answered my question,
but because we do not have a second round, I am trying to follow up on an
answer you gave earlier. I understand that there is a foundation named for
[Later in the hearing.]
Link to Sen. Kaine’s questions:
Senator Kaine: Should all K-12 schools receiving governmental funding be
required to meet the requirements of the individuals with disabilities
Mrs. DeVos: I think they already are.
Senator Kaine: But I�m asking you a should question. Whether they are or
not, we�ll get into that later. Should all schools that receive taxpayer
be required to meet the requirements of the individuals with disabilities in
Mrs. DeVos: I think that is a matter is best left to the states.
Senator Kaine: So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, other
states might not be so good, and then what, people can just move around the
country if they don�t like the way their kid�s been treated?
Mrs. DeVos: I think that is an issue best left to the states.
Senator Kaine: What about the federal requirement? It�s a federal law. The
individuals with disabilities education act. Let’s limit it to federal
If schools receive federal funding, should they be required to follow
federal law? Whether they are public, public charter, or private?
Mrs. DeVos: As the Senator referred to � at the Florida program, there are
many parents who are happy with the program there.
Senator Kaine: Let me say this, I think all schools that receive federal
funding, public, public charter, or private, should be required to meet the
the individuals with disabilities and education act. Do you agree with me or
Mrs. DeVos: I think that is certainly worth discussion, and I would look
Senator Kaine: So you cannot yet agree with me. And finally, should all
schools that receive federal funding be required to report the same
instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying if they receive federal
Mrs. DeVos: I think that federal funding certainly comes with strings
Senator Kaine: I think all such schools that receive federal funding should
be required to report on instances of harassment and bullying, and you agree
with me on that?
Mrs. DeVos: I would look forward to reviewing that provision.
Senator Kaine: [�] It’s not a court, you’re not under oath, not under
subpoena, but you are trying to win my vote. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
[Later in the hearing.]
Link to Sen. Murkowski’s question:
Senator Murkowski: [�] This was something that was brought up at the Q & A
session in Anchorage. A concern that there would not be an effort to match
accountability to those schools that received federal funding, either
through a voucher program, a federal match, an education savings account
in addition to performance standards, that there would be true
accountability with adhering to federal laws for civil rights as well as
students with disabilities.
So, I will ask for continuation of that discussion. You have provided some
very responsive comments, that I think will help our teachers in Alaska,
their options are very limited. How can you provide assurance to these
teachers, families, and students, for whom alternatives and options are
limited, not because we don’t want them, but because our geography isolates
Mrs. DeVos: Thank you for that question. I really appreciated our
conversation and a review of the map because it does remind us of the unique
that Alaska has. I would say that I can assure you that, if confirmed, I
will support Alaska and its approach to educating its youngsters. I have to
I think the creativity and innovation that Alaska has employed through the
traditional public system is one that other states can probably take note of
and learn some lessons from, and would hope that they continue to feel that
freedom and that drive to continue to educate and innovate. [Ms. DeVos gave
no response regarding disability.]
[Later in the hearing.]
Link to Sen. Hassan’s second round of questions:
Senator Hassan: I want to go back to the individuals with disabilities in
education act. That is a federal civil rights law. Do you stand by your
that it should be up to the states whether to follow it?
Ms. DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.
Senator Hassan: So, were you unaware, when I just asked you about the IDEA,
that it is a federal law?
Mrs. DeVos: I may have confused it.
Senator Hassan: It guarantees absolutely basic protections to students with
disabilities to ensure that they are afforded a high-quality education with
their peers — one of the reasons it is difficult to have this hearing and
feel that we fully understand your perspective � is because we do know that
children with disabilities in at least some of the voucher programs that you
have supported have gone with a voucher to a school. Because of their
they had to leave the school, the school keeps the money, and they go back
to public schools, that now have even less resources to deal with them. And
many of us see that as the potential to turn ours schools into warehouses
for the most challenging kids with disabilities or other kinds of particular
issues. Or, the kids whose parents cannot afford to make up the difference
between the voucher and the cost of private school tuition. So I just would
urge you to become familiar, should you be nominated, with the individuals
with disabilities in education act. I’m concerned that you seem so
with it, and you seem to support vouchers rules that have not honored, that
have made students sign away their rights to make sure that this law is
That is very troubling to me.
Mrs. DeVos: Senator, I assure you that I, if I am confirmed, I will be very
sensitive to the needs of the special needs students and the policies
Senator Hassan: With all due respect, it is not about sensitivity, although
that helps. It is about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that
my child, that every child, has the same access to public education, a
high-quality public education. The reality is the way that the voucher
that you support have not always come out that way. That is why it is
something we need to continue to explore.
Senator Alexander: Thank you to Senator Hassan and Senator Murray.