Philadelphia, PA -- A group of parents of students with disabilities, advocates, and Philadelphia council members presented Senator Pat Toomey with a letter urging him to vote against Betsy DeVos for secretary of education.
Wednesday afternoon, councilmembers at-large, Derek Green and Helen Gym hand delivered the letter to Toomey’s Philadelphia office and then held a press conference outside.
The signers consider Ms. DeVos' stated positions on IDEA protections for students with disabilities, as well as her unwillingness to support federal oversight in these areas, to be disqualifying.
In addition to parent advocates and council members Gym, Blackwell, and Green, organizational signers include: Disability Rights Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center, the Education Rights Network, Education Voters-PA, One Pennsylvania, and the Arc of Philadelphia.
One of the speakers was Calyn Arnold, who has a 6-year-old son with autism. Calder Munoz Arnold is a kindergartner at the Penn Alexander school in West Philadelphia. Calyn says her son needs extra help in school.
Arnold explained, “What makes autism different is communication and social interactions are more challenging. And he’s got sensory sensitivity. So things we take for granted are particularly hard for him.”
Arnold says the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees her son access to a free and appropriate education, is a blessing.
“Right now he’s doing fantastic. He’s doing really well, and he’s doing really well because he has the supports he needs in place.”
But she’s nervous those supports could go away with the new secretary of education.
At one point during Betsy DeVos January 17th confirmation hearing, she suggested individual states should be able to decide whether to enforce the IDEA federal law.
“Betsy DeVos is really terrifying frankly and really scary,” said Arnold.
Those concerns are shared by many other parents of students with disabilities.
One of those parents is Philadelphia City Councilman at-large Derek Green.
Green told PHL17, “Well as an elected official, but more so the father of autistic child, you know, every day we deal with autism.”
Councilwoman Gym said, “There is no danger to our public school students from grizzly bears or anything like that; the danger is Betsy DeVos.”
In a statement, Senator Toomey’s office said, “Betsy DeVos is a champion of school choice and Senator Toomey believes she is a great pick. Senator Toomey does appreciate the feedback though from local leaders in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.”
But for parents like Arnold, she hopes Toomey changes his mind before DeVos is confirmed.