David Pettinicchio is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His research focuses on discrimination based on disability and disability rights. Professor Pettinicchio recently wrote and published an essay in Policy Trajectories, the blog of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Comparative and Historical Sociology. The beginning of the essay is pasted below. You can read the full piece here.
History matters for understanding the future of disability rights
In 2000, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, argued before the Senate that disability rights in education “created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”
This is a longstanding view of Sessions, who in the late 1990s and early 2000s focused his efforts in educational policy around school safety and discipline while also proposing an amendment striking activities related to hate crimes from national training and education programs. With so-called “Ed-Flex,” Sessions and other Republicans in 1999 argued that arrogance on the part of the federal government acting as a “super school board” – thinking they know better than local communities about how to educate their children – only creates headaches.
To many critics, an Attorney General Sessions signals an era of rollbacks in civil rights and disability rights policy. Distressingly, his is not an anomalous viewpoint.
Sessions’ comments highlight the kinds of deeply held beliefs among powerful segments of society that federal disability rights policy interferes with local and/or private interests. Detractors have successfully created significant obstacles for effective policy implementation by framing equal rights and antidiscrimination provisions as unnecessary regulation causing unintended harms.
The fight for equal rights in education has been an integral part of the disability rights struggle. Policymakers and activists sought to establish key educational civil rights laws demanding that the government make good on its promise to enforce antidiscrimination and equal rights provisions enacted by Congress in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s.