Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has a history of not understanding special education laws, which he would be in charge of enforcing if he is confirmed as Attorney General in January.
Sessions has said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which codifies the right of disabled students receive a proper education, “may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”
The former Alabama Attorney General also blames the law for, in his opinion, “accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”
Sessions’ biggest gripe with special education laws seems to center around discipline.
“We are telling special children with physical disabilities, or disabilities as defined by the federal law, that they don’t have to adhere to the same standards other children do,” he said. “Right in the classroom, we create, by federal law, two separate standards for American citizens.”
But that is the point of the law. These students cannot meet the standards set for other students because they are either physically or developmentally challenged.
They still deserve an education, and it will be Sessions’ job to make sure they get it after his likely confirmation next year.
Still, most advocacy groups see his nomination as troubling, with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network issuing a statement condemning his appointment and calling him “a staunch opponent of civil liberties.”
“We have grave concerns that under Sessions, the Department of Justice would not protect the rights of disabled people and other marginalized populations,” the group said, citing his voting record and statements made as a Senator.
Thomas J. Surgue brought up more of Sessions’ record on special education in a New York Times editorial published last week.
During his tenure as Alabama Attorney General, Sessions “used the power of his office to fight to preserve Alabama’s long history of separate and unequal education” by fighting to overturn a court order that the state fixes inequitable funding across Alabama public schools.
If Sessions elects to continue pushing such positions as U.S. Attorney General, progress in special education could be set back decades.