Oregon school districts would no longer be able to limit educational time for students with disabilities without their parent’s consent under a measure that passed the state Senate on Thursday.
The right to access a public education with a licensed instructor for all Oregon students is a right they have under state and federal laws. But some students with disabilities are being quietly removed from school or only offered abbreviated days or online instruction.
Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis, who shepherded the bill through the legislative process, said she heard from dozens of parents whose children with disabilities were not able to access instructional time. The practice is difficult to track, but she said there are at least 1,000 documented cases where students have been blocked from obtaining the education they are guaranteed under law.
“We have a parent who describes being told … over and over and over again not to bring her medically fragile child because they do not have the staff,” Gelser Blouin said on the Senate floor.
“It is the time for these kids to realize the promise that we make to every child that you have a right to our public schools,” Gelser Blouin said. “You are worthy. You are a member of the public. You are not less than. You are a learner. You have capacity and you have potential.”
The measure, Senate Bill 819, passed with bipartisan support. The bill would allow the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission the ability to investigate and sanction school districts and superintendents who are violating the law. The Oregon Department of Education could also declare that the district is out of compliance and withhold state funds.
In addition to requiring a signature by a parent or guardian before shortening their child’s school day, the measure allows parents to revoke their signature if they change their minds, if they do the student must be reinstated in school within five days.
Alexy Parker, of Portland, submitted testimony in favor of the measure, telling legislators her daughter, who has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder only attends middle school for two hours a day once a week.
Parker described how the pandemic, staffing shortages, and a violent incident with her child, who has attended Portland Public Schools since kindergarten, have all contributed to her daughter not receiving the education she needed.
“She has not had any speech therapy since spring of 2020 … Kids with behavior issues due to a disability need more support with their education, not exclusionary practices,” she said.
Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, also supported the measure.
“Our constitution of Oregon, the Constitution of the United States of America, says we are all equal under the law,” Knopp said. “It doesn’t say we are all equal under the law, except disabled children. There are no exceptions.”
The measure now heads to the House.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that a parent can revoke their consent to a school district at any point and the child must be allowed to return to the school. OPB regrets the error.