With the new Secretary of Education sparking discussions about whether schools will continue to be held to current requirements regarding accessibility and discrimination, parents might be wondering if their children will have access to quality education. In planning for the future, it’s useful to know the progress and setbacks education accessibility has already experienced. Below is some history about accessibility in education and where we stand looking forward.
Access to Education
If you know anything about the history of education in America, you know that accessibility standards are new. I’ve heard horror stories about left-handed individuals being slapped on the wrist, people with dyslexia being told to drop out, and I know older people with physical conditions that meant they never had a chance at an education, especially in their rural area.
Today, public schools are not allowed to deny students based on disabilities. Current legislation requires students with disabilities to be given an IEP (Independent Education Plan). This can include a diagnosis of their disability, an assessment of how they can perform in the classroom, and recommendations for how they can best be served. Sometimes, public schools in rural areas don’t have the resources needed to meet every individual’s needs. An IEP determines whether the accommodation is reasonable for the school, or whether a student will best be served elsewhere.
Private schools can reject any student for any reason. If voucher systems that give private schools public funds without holding them to the same standards became more widespread, public schools would have less funding to meet individual student needs. Not only this, but private charter schools currently are not required to provide education to students with disabilities. So if a public school doesn’t have the resources available, and private schools choose not to provide them, what options are left for parents and students?
There needs to be comprehensive discussion about how education tax dollars are used, ensuring that they are equally accessible for all students.
Safety and Accessibility at School
Schools haven’t just improved educational systems. Their physical appearance has evolved too. Today, schools are required to meet specific accessibility standards like wheelchair access and safety handrails.
Today’s playgrounds also look very different from those of the past. There are playgrounds that utilize different sections, allowing kids at similar stages of development to learn and play safely together. Today’s playgrounds are also built from safer materials, from barring lead paint and splintering wood, to using soft materials as ground cover instead of hard bark or rocks.
We need to be looking at building and playground design across the world to continue to improve safety and accessibility for children of all abilities.
De-politicizing the Conversation
Unfortunately, anything that involves public funding is always going to be a political conversation. People will bicker about what the money should go to and how many resources students should be given. By focusing on student needs and outcomes, we can aim for systemic change in education and push for fair funding and regulations that benefit students with different mobility and neurological needs than what has been established as the “norm”. We can provide quality educations for anyone willing to learn, and increase the number of prepared people in the workforce. We can help foster a better world for our children so they can go on to improve it even more.
Image Source: Pixabay