New Federal Special Ed. Chief Aims to Foster Partnership With States

Special Education ESSA photoESSA/NNPA

he selection of Johnny Collett, confirmed in December to oversee special education for the U.S. Department of Education, was a rare point of agreement between the Trump administration and the disability-advocacy community.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was tripped up on disability-policy questions during her confirmation hearing last year, and her staunch support of school choice options has left some advocates worried that parents may not understand that choosing private schools means losing the rights guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But Collett’s special education bona fides were not in question: A former special education teacher, he has served as a special education director for Kentucky and was the director of special education outcomes for the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Four months into his tenure, Collett, the assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative sevices, is trying to position the department as a supportive partner to states.

In an interview with Education Week, Collett discussed a wide range of issues involving special education responsibilities, including the Education Department’s oversight of the Every Student Succeeds Act; discipline and discrimination; school choice and students with disabilities; and the department’s leadership role.

He talked about the complex interplay special educators face between complying with federal law, supporting high expectations for all children, and recognizing each student’s individual educational needs.

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