Oregon senator criticizes public education for discriminating against disabled students

An Oregon lawmaker is accusing school districts of discriminating against disabled students by placing them in abbreviated school day programs that reduce instruction hours.

Sen. Sarah Gelser…

An Oregon lawmaker is accusing school districts of discriminating against disabled students by placing them in abbreviated school day programs that reduce instruction hours.

Sen. Sarah Gelser Blouin, D-District 8, is sponsoring SB 819, a bipartisan legislative effort to put more parameters around abbreviated school day programs. The bill passed the Senate on a 25-1 vote and is currently being discussed by a House committee.

Blouin doesn’t buy the excuses schools are giving for reduced instructional time.

“The districts say that they do not have the staffing or the training and that some students are just too difficult to serve in a public school,” Blouin told WPUR. “Some also say that students, because of their special learning needs, learn more if they have less instructional time. And that argument really does not make any sense.”  

She explains that an “abbreviated school day” disproportionately affects younger students and can mean as little as half an hour of online instruction per week 

“Students have had a right to the same number of hours and days as non-disabled students for decades,” the state senator continues. “I just can’t believe that, in 2023, I am actually fighting an uphill battle to allow disabled children to attend kindergarten.”  

Part of the problem is that the complaint process with the Oregon Department of Education is lengthy and not adequately enforced.  

SB 819 would address the complaint process, as well as requiring schools to receive parental consent before placing a child in an abbreviated program. 

The measure also stipulates that schools can’t use abbreviated programs to mask staffing issues, and allows parents to revoke their consent for the placement at any time.  

One mother testified before the Oregon Assembly that her nonverbal child was placed on an abbreviated school day due to staffing issues. Since public schools couldn’t meet the family’s needs, they are now homeschooling.  

“We agreed to the placement only because we thought we could get more support,” Chelsea Rasmussen told the legislature. “She sits by the door with her communication device pressing the buttons ‘go’ and ‘school,’ and cries when she’s told that she cannot attend at this time.”  

Last year, Blouin sponsored a bill that would have created procedures for the education department to investigate and resolve such cases, but the bill was killed due to the legislative session’s time constraints. 

Blouin has since filed a public records request to see if any agencies or politicians were intentionally trying to stonewall the bill.  

If passed, SB 819 would go into full effect on July 1, 2023.