Oregon’s Disabled Students May Not Be Getting the Classroom Time They Deserve

The right to a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, is enshrined in the American psyche — and as of 1973, it’s also a right for disabled students, thanks to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But disability advocates claim that Oregon isn’t living up to its responsibilities, and their lawsuit is highlighting an issue that many people are not aware of, though it’s been documented in the state for years: School districts across the United States are quietly pushing disabled kids out of the classroom.

Legally, disabled kids have a right to an education too — and specifically to receive education in the same settings as nondisabled students, although they may need individual accommodations and supports.

For example, a student might work with an aide who helps her accomplish classroom tasks, or a student might need audio or braille material because he is blind or has a vision impairment. Schools are required to work with disabled students and parents to assess needs and make sure they are met.

Even so, disabled people frequently report that this doesn’t happen — and what’s occurring in Oregon is an extreme example. Advocates say that schools are responding to kids with disability-linked behavioral issues by shortening their school days, depriving them of hours — and sometimes days — of instruction over the course of the school year.

Autistic students and those with mental health conditions are most at risk, and while the specifics of this case are still coming out, it wouldn’t be a shock to learn that there are racialized implications here too, given that disabled students of color face disproportionate discipline.

This means that kids don’t get a chance to mingle with their peers, making it harder to develop social skills and learn how to interact safely and comfortably with others. They’re also missing out on the education they need to thrive; they will have a hard time getting jobs, attending college and engaging with the community if they lack high school diplomas and have limited education histories. Meanwhile, their parents are faced with an unexpected child care need when their kids are sent home from school.

Many of the schools involved are in rural communities, and they’re struggling with funding. While the government makes funding available to support disabled students, these schools and districts may be unequipped in a variety of ways.

And students pay the price when they’re kicked out of school early day after day for not meeting behavioral expectations or forced into segregated classrooms to “learn” alone, without being surrounded by peers. School personnel need better training.

Advocates argue that there are ways to work with kids who have behavioral problems, if schools are willing to invest the time. This work can include taking advantage of resources like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Learning more about why students are acting out and working on a plan to communicate with them, as well as address the root of a problem, can help them thrive in the classroom and develop skills they need to manage anger and other intense emotions that can cause outbursts.

In addition to benefiting their peers and teachers, that approach will help set up disabled students for success.

The situation in Oregon highlights that even with laws designed to guarantee access to public services, disabled people can struggle when it comes to getting them in the real world. Disabled students deserve a chance to thrive, and that may mean that districts need to secure funding to invest in training staff and developing tools to support children with behavioral problems; the more they’re isolated from peers and a learning environment, the more severe their problems can become, which is the exact opposite of the desired outcome.

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Frances G
Carla G24 days ago

thank you

Caitlin L
Past Member about a month ago

Thanks for this

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

Hannah A
Hannah A2 months ago

thanks for sharing

Kayla C
Kayla Cote2 months ago

This is a very real issue! It is so important to promote inclusion for people with disabilities, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of society as a whole. They are often a lot more capable than we realize, and providing opportunities for them to learn and grow will only maximize their potential of contributing to society in a positive way. Segregation really never leads to good for anyone.

Thomas M
Thomas M2 months ago

Thanks for posting

Helen C
Helen C2 months ago

these problems need work

Dr. Jan H
Dr. Jan Hill2 months ago


Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago


Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago