Today the Assembly passed a package of education bills that will negatively and disproportionally impact students with disabilities.

“Students with disabilities can least afford to be left behind, but advocates and families are worried that is exactly what will happen,” said Beth Swedeen, Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD) Executive Director. “The cumulative effect of this legislation means public schools required to educate students with disabilities will have more students experiencing higher needs and less funding to support them.”

AB 967 and AB 968 would expand charter schools, which may have acceptance requirements that make it harder for students with disabilities to enroll. Historically and nationally, charter schools have lower proportions of students with disabilities enrolled, increasing the proportion of students with disabilities in traditional public schools.

AB 966 would break Milwaukee Public Schools into four separate districts. Currently, parents can choose a school located anywhere in the district that best fits their child’s education needs, even if it is outside their neighborhood. It’s unclear what happens to students with disabilities after new district lines are drawn. Creating four separate districts means less choice for parents and may result in schools that have higher proportions of students with disabilities and less funding from a smaller local tax base. 19.6% of Milwaukee’s student body are students with disabilities.

“Two bills increase the likelihood students with disabilities will be targeted because of behaviors related to their disability,” said Swedeen. “In Wisconsin, students with disabilities represent over 34% of referrals to law enforcement and ranks sixth in the country. Too many students with disabilities move from school to prison when they should be moving from school to work. This pattern is unacceptable, and these bills are likely to make the problem worse.”

AB 969 requires public schools to report all incidents—including minor violations of disorderly conduct—to local law enforcement, and mandates schools hire armed school resource officers if too many incidents are reported. The presence of a school resource officer increases the likelihood that a student with a disability may be arrested and charged due to behavior that is directly related to their disability.

AB 963 requires schools to inform parents of any acts of violence or crimes occurring in schools, without defining what is considered an act of violence or crime. Many children with disabilities act out or exhibit behaviors to communicate. Advocates are concerned behaviors of students with disabilities will be reported to other parents and could led to the student being more isolated or labeled as problematic.

AB 995 would prohibit school districts from requiring students to wear face coverings in school buildings and grounds and requires school to offer a full-time, in-person option to all pupils enrolled in the school district. Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, immunocompromised or chronic health conditions are at greater risk of contracting and becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

“The pandemic has caused extraordinary and ongoing hardship for students with disabilities and their families,” said Swedeen. “Legislation that takes away mask policy choices from schools regardless of local rates of disease puts families of medically fragile and immune-compromised children in the impossible position of risking their child’s health or foregoing education.”

BPDD is charged under the federal Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act with advocacy, capacity building, and systems change to improve self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life for people with developmental disabilities1.

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