* Several hours after this piece was posted the idea.ed.gov website was back up. Thank you to all who called, emailed and tweeted to make that happen. ^0^
** Correction: The link that was put up simply re-directs to the OSPE, the original site is still down as of 2-10-17
Have you tried accessing the government website for IDEA information, idea.ed.gov, lately? It seems to have been down since January 27th. In the past, parents in need of services, schools in search of clarification on regulations, or special education advocates seeking to protect a student’s rights, might accept a statement about a website being down because of server issues at face value. In a digital world, websites do go down, glitches happen, and servers do need maintenance. I am not sure they go down for nine days on a regular basis though, but, my point is the acceptance of a statement from this administration that a website is simply down because of tech problems is no longer good enough. We now live under an administration unrepentant at issuing “alternative facts”, and which considers critics and the media to be the enemy. Facts are “fake news” whenever they are not to the President’s liking. Based on what this administration has done to the EPA, the NPS, and the White House website, one can understandably speculate that this may not actually be just a “glitch”.
It also does not come as a shock that this administration did not widely publicize the issue. When you are trying to limit access to information, why would you want to publicize the fact that the main website for access to said information was no longer operational? We tried to access the website on Wednesday, February 8th at approximately 3:30 EST and received a “this site can’t be reached” message. We did some research and found this article, which explained that the site had been having server problems since January 27th. At least the U.S. Department of Education website is still up, with the 25 year history of IDEA in its archives. I wish I was joking when I say that maybe some of us should start independently backing up that information. As I was researching this piece and discussing it with people on twitter, some began to make phone calls and tweet legislators. When I checked back to the idea.ed.gov website it was still down, but now there was a message that the server was down and to try back later. As of the time this article was published, the site remained down.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 is a federal law which guarantees a free and appropriate education for all students. Reauthorized several times over the years, but never fully funded, IDEA has literally been a lifeline to millions of students and families in this country. These same families are usually not in the the best position to advocate for themselves as easily as say, a billionaire’s family would be able to advocate for themselves. Therefore most families with a child who has disabilities depends on publicly accessible information.
One coincidence to this website being down is that this administration has previously removed from the White House webpage any reference to disabilities. Another interesting coincidence regarding IDEA is that the at the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’ HELP committee hearing on January 17th, she failed spectacularly when asked a question by Senator Hassan about IDEA. Taking into account these two details one can only surmise that perhaps this administration is not really concerned with the rights and needs of students with disabilities. After all didn’t the President mock a reporter’s disability in an infamous campaign event?
In response to this administration's attempts to silence the National Parks Service, some brave employees have created rogue twitter accounts to continue putting out information to the public. NASA and the EPA have also created anonymous accounts to combat the censorship of this current administration. These actions have set an example for all who are the target of this administration's repression. The information on these websites is public property and it is our right to have access to it.
Public school parents and teachers, especially those of us who work with students who have disabilities, need to be our own “rogue advocates” for the protections of IDEA. Except, we are going to be out in the open about it. We will be in everybody’s face anytime they try to take away IDEA protections and services. Special education parents, advocates and activists have long since cast aside their fears of standing up to the government. We have been fighting for our students for generations, and we will not let some arrogant, bigoted public officials take away our children’s rights. This administration may appoint as Secretary of Education a billionaire who is not legally qualified to teach children, even in a state with laxed teacher certification requirements, but we will not allow this egregious attempt to deny our children their rights. We demand immediate access to all IDEA government resources, or we promise class action lawsuits will soon follow.
For parents and teachers that need access to special education services there are some websites where you can still be informed of your rights such as the Council for Exceptional Children or for legal information lawhelp.org. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs was also still operational. For now.
Concerned people can also contact the senators on the HELP committee to alert them to the fact that the website has been down. Parents have a right to be notified, as do the American people, if a major website has been down for nine days. If we allow this administration to remove the IDEA website, then how long till they start removing the actual services? People only have rights, as long as they are determined to keep them, and as long as they are courageous enough to fight for them. We will not be silent, not when we are protecting our children.