A plan to give the Oregon Department of Education to investigate allegations of discrimination against disabled students was killed Tuesday by lawmakers due to time.
State Sen. Sarah Gelser Blue, D. Corvalis, said she was in the Senate when Gov. Kate Brown called to share with her that The Senate Bill of 1578authored and sponsored by Gelser Blue, was dead due to time constraints of the current session.
The bipartisan bill had already been approved by the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 11 and was on the Joint Committee on Methods and Means.
“We are constantly losing accounts. This is different, ”Helser Blue said in an interview. “We spent so much time talking about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion during this session.”
Charles Boyle, Brown’s deputy director of communications, wrote in an email that based on the governor’s conversations with lawmakers it was clear that the bill was not moving forward at this session, and she passed the message to Gelser Blue as a courtesy.
Helser Bluin does not know who decided to kill her proposal and why she was chosen among many.
The bill was a response to more than three dozen parents across the state who appealed to Gelser Blue, stating that their disabled children do not receive equal time in class as their peers, which is a violation of state and federal laws. The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of teachers, especially among special education teachers and paraprofessionals, which resulted in some counties canceling entire study days for students with disabilities each week, which added up to several weeks and months of lost class time.
Helzer Blue launched an online campaign called #Everything means everything help parents file a complaint and draw attention to the issue.
Currently, parents who believe their children are not receiving the same amount of time in class can file a complaint with the Federal Department of Education, which may take months or years to investigate, or with the local school district where the violation was alleged. The district must then conduct an investigation and decide whether to refer the case to the State Department of Education.
By proposing the bill, Gelser Blue wanted to make it easier for parents to report allegations of discrimination and lost classes, and to investigate agencies outside the school district. She also hoped to speed up the investigation and get the students back to school soon.
Helser Blue said she was in trouble when she learned that the bill would no longer be considered.
Shortly after receiving the news from Brown in a short and heated speech in the Senate, Helser Blue told her colleagues that she would continue to vote for the bills based solely on their perceived urgency.
“I recently learned that we may be leaving some very important types of legislation on the table arguing that we just don’t have the time,” she said. “So I’m now thinking about the legislation we’re voting on as to how urgent and extraordinary it is compared to, say, ensuring the right of children with disabilities not to continue to be denied access to school as their non-disabled peers.”
The Gelser Blues bill was supported by Colt Gill, director of the Department of Education, as well as leaders of the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon School Board Association.
Gelser Blue said she was perplexed as to why her seven-page bill had been killed to save time, and why the issue was no longer relevant. She pointed to parents ’excitement over Portland’s public schools’ proposal to move to a four-day school week.
“Imagine what they would say if their student got an hour a day with an unlicensed teacher,” she said.
Helser Bluen held back tears as he spoke of what would happen next.
“I don’t know what to say to these people,” she said of the families who turned to her for help to give their children equal time in class.
“Your children have the right to attend school, we know it’s shrinking, and we’re actively deciding not to move forward.”