2024 Veto Letter to Governor re: HB 347

Updated: 1 month ago
Public Policy

March 5, 2024

 

Governor Spencer Cox

350 North State Street, Suite 200

PO Box 142220

Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2220

 

Re: H.B. 347

 

Dear Governor Cox,

 

The Disability Law Center (DLC) opposes H.B. 347: Educational Rights Amendments, and we urge you to veto this bill.  As the State’s designated Protection and Advocacy Agency, we seek to protect the legal rights of Utahns with disabilities, including access to a free appropriate public education.  We believe this bill will lead to unnecessary litigation and divert further funding from students in special education.

H.B. 347 will make it difficult for schools to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While we appreciate the concerns expressed by legislators that educators are suffering harm, the IDEA has provisions to help with these situations, including on how to change placement of a student and when discipline is appropriate.  The State should instead look to what we can do to support schools and teachers in following these provisions, and why the appropriate support for students with disabilities is not being provided.

The third substitute also puts the State Board of Education (USBE) in a difficult position of adopting rules that may be at odds with the IDEA as well.  Specifically, USBE will be forced to create rules that could do one of two things.  One would be to align with the IDEA provisions mentioned above. However, if that’s the case, then it is hard to see how this legislation is necessary and will solve any problem. The second would be to create rules at odds with the IDEA, which will lead to litigation and further divert resources from students and teachers that could be used to provide the support they both need, particularly with the lack of clarity in the bill and the clear precedent of federal law.

For example, H.B. 347 seems to require unilateral placement changes for students who are disruptive, among other things, in direct conflict with provisions of the IDEA because it requires schools to provide an “education to all students … in the least restrictive environment possible that does not result in a pattern of behavior that interferes substantially and materially with the instruction of other students in the classroom.”  What would happen to a student with Tourette’s syndrome under this bill?  Or a student who displays stimming behavior like flapping their hands?  Where would schools have them go, if their behavior does interfere with other students, which seems very likely for these students?  H.B. 347 appears to answer these questions by forcing a change in placement for students with disabilities in violation of the IDEA, leading to unnecessary litigation, and, thus, will not address the problem it seeks to solve of helping educators.

Rather, a better solution is to provide better funding for special education, things like paying paraeducators a living wage and funding co-teaching models (as H.B. 485 would have done), to ensure that students with disabilities have the supports they need. We urge you to veto this bill and to instead look at what we can do to better support students with disabilities in Utah.

In addition to the legal concerns, this bill further stigmatizes students with disabilities by suggesting they present a danger to others and/or are more disruptive than other students. This is the very stigma that leads to discrimination against people with disabilities in other aspects of society throughout their lifespan, and we would encourage the State to look for ways to promote inclusion of students with disabilities, not further segregation.

Given the potential violations of federal law and stigmatization of students with disabilities, the Disability Law Center strongly urges you to veto this bill.  Thank you for your time and consideration of our position.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Adina Zahradnikova                                                               Nate Crippes

Executive Director                                                                  Public Affairs Supervising Attorney  

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