Monday Connecticut’s legislature appears on the verge of enacting a profoundly anti-disability rights, anti-civil rights legislation over Gov. Dannel Malloy’s veto. The bill is Public Act 18-89 (SB453). It permits any teacher to throw a child out of the classroom at any time that the teacher thinks the kid may be dangerous. Any review of the teacher’s unilateral decision will occur after the child is excluded. And, the bill makes the child’s re-entry into the classroom a major challenge.
We know who the targets will be: kids with disabilities and children of color. We know that because those are the kids who are disproportionately subject to discipline now. Authorizing unilateral teacher decisions will permit irrational fears and unconscious biases to hold sway, resulting in a discriminatory public education system: one in which minorities and students with disabilities are routinely excluded from the regular classroom.
For nearly 50 years, inclusion has been the goal of both the disabilities rights movement and the civil rights movement. Inclusion has been endorsed by Congress and the courts as the best way to end discrimination. P.A. 18-89 goes in the opposite direction. Rather than including children and providing them with the services and supports they need to function in the classroom and later in society, this legislation seeks to exclude children. As the Supreme Court told us in Brown v Board of Education, separate education is inherently and unavoidably unequal education.
P.A. 18-89 flies directly in the face of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which provides protections both for children already identified with disabilities and for children who are suspected of having a disability. So, P.A. 18-89 will surely be thrown out by the courts, but not until dozens of teachers exercise the power they thought they were given and hundreds of children are excluded from education.
And this will not occur until Connecticut public school districts spend a fortune on legal defense that should be spent on the education of children. Indeed, the Supreme Court has already decided this issue in Honig v. Doe, specifically finding that disabled children were excluded for disciplinary reasons at a disproportionate rate and that the IDEA was enacted to prevent such exclusion.
We all share a serious and honest concern about school safety, particularly in the aftermath of Parkland and Sandy Hook. Schools need to be a safe place for all children. Sadly, P.A. 18-89 will likely lead to more dangerous schools. Children who are part of the school community, who have friends, who are part of a social group, are not likely to pose a danger to the school environment. The real danger comes from children who feel excluded, rejected, cast out. It is these kids who can fester in their anger and some small minority of this group may become the school shooters of tomorrow. The more kids who are excluded from the public school environment, the more dangerous schools become.
Remarkably, the school superintendent’s association, the special education directors association, the association of boards of education, together with disability rights and parent’s groups, including COPAA, SEEK, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy, have spoken out together against this legislation. It is being pushed by the teacher’s union as an exercise in political power. And, others appear to support this legislation as a way to show their disdain for Gov. Malloy. Undermining civil rights and making schools more dangerous are prices too high to pay for such political ploys.
P.A. 18-89 is malicious legislation that needs to be defeated.
Andrew Feinstein is a Mystic, Connecticut attorney who represents children with disabilities and their parents in seeking a free appropriate public education.