The RISE ACT is simple enough. You can read it here: Text – S.2550 – 117th Congress (2021-2022): RISE Act of 2021 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress. I like how simple it is. It’s a one-page law. I think more should be this way and not 20,000 pages that you must pass the bill to see what’s in it. Here is the introduction to the bill: “To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide students with disabilities and their families with access to critical information needed to select the right college and succeed once enrolled.” Noble goal. I support that goal. I do not support how the bill proposes to get there. The Rise Act is a lie. Read on the find out why.
What It Does
The bill does a few things. It specifies what types of documentation must be accepted: IEPs, 504 plans, VA documentation, evaluations, and a record of disability from another school. It mandates that school policies should be transparent and easily viewed, and it requires training for faculty about students with disabilities. Not bad. However, that’s where the good stuff ends. A lot more is hidden beneath the surface.
The RISE Act’s primary focus is on IEPs and 504 plans. The rest is added on as an afterthought. Proponents of the bill have argued that it’s needed because of burdensome documentation requirements, often resulting in parents needing another evaluation privately. Proponents argue that it is costly and burdensome. That may be true. However, it’s not the whole story.
There is no Burden—the Rise Act’s first lie.
Documentation requirements by any college or university are there to ensure the recency of the issues present. Not to be burdensome. It’s only burdensome because K-12 is negligent in reevaluating students with disabilities. It’s common for accessibility staff to get evaluations from when the student was still in grade school. Anyone familiar with assessments will tell you that is not accurate for a student who is 18.
Tell me how that’s fair to any disabled student. How is that just? It leaves a student unprepared for the rest of their educational and career aspirations. K-12 is to blame, not college. The college is trying to meet the legal requirements under the ADA and 504.
Documentation is also not burdensome. It’s necessary. At least the Rise Act gets it right in that part. The burden is the cost and time needed to get another evaluation. K-12 should’ve done an updated eval sophomore through senior year, but they didn’t. Now, it falls n the parents to get another evaluation, and their main argument against obtaining another assessment is that it’s costly, not unnecessary. See the deception.
Besides, if K-12 isn’t going to do what’s right and just, it falls on the parents to get it done. Is that a burden? Doubtful. If any parent who has taken their kid to the ER will tell you the expense isn’t an issue when your kid needs things. Further, we’re ready with the credit card any time our dog needs to see an emergency vet, and we get a $1,500 bill. We justify the expense.
However, if we believe our federal senators, a new, updated eval is not justified. It’s unnecessary because this new RISE Act takes care of it. Wrong. It’s an implied lie.
The Lies Continue
The bill only allows for the establishment of a disability. It does not guarantee accommodations. Here’s a dirty little secret. A student’s history can establish a disability. So, when accessibility staff gets an IEP, it’s a pretty good indicator that a disability is present. Accessibility staff can make an assessment that a student has had a disability just from an IEP.
That is called disability by history, but more is needed to establish a current disability. It’s about something called “current impact.” Current impact is required to verify eligibility for accommodations. Do the issues presented have an impact on the student right now? Maybe not.
For example, a student had a 504 plan in high school because of depression. It can be determined to have had a disability by history. However, the question is about the current impact. This depressed student may not have had a depressive episode in two years.
The question is logical. Is the student still disabled? If they are not seeing a therapist and not on any medications, then, no, they aren’t. Why? There is no current impact. They were disabled but aren’t now because there is no current impact.
The bill never tells parents this. It just manipulates them into thinking that being called disabled is all needed to get accommodations. It’s not.
The eval is still needed.
To get current impact, accessibility staff gets that from two components: student report and the documentation. For students with IEPs, both can be problematic. Why? Most students with learning disabilities have significant problems describing their disability. It’s also one of the main reasons for my online courses and book.
Thus, the student report becomes problematic for establishing a current impact. Students with learning disabilities cannot give it. Further, as stated prior, the evaluation may be from grade school, making it useless to establish anything recent. A new assessment is the only way to ensure the accuracy of the current impact.
You can only do so much with limited information. A recent eval is a perfect description of the student at present, not from ten years ago. Just an IEP does not give the full description of the need, nor does the student self-report nor does the parent report.
The accommodations, if approved, won’t be the total amount that may be needed. The accessibility staff does not have the full information to make the determination. A student could go in with the need for ten accommodations and leave with three. Accessibility staff cannot approve accommodations with limited information that does not support each requested accommodation. See the problem with the bill? None of this is higher ed’s fault, as the bill and its proponents want you to believe.
The Rise Act is a lie by omission.
The bill is grandstanding at best and does nothing ultimately. Determining a current disability and eligibility for accommodations remains the responsibility of the individual college. The bill neglects to inform parents of this. For example, if the bill becomes law, a student can submit their IEP, and the school must accept it (not that they ever wouldn’t) and that a disability is present.
However, eligibility for accommodations still needs to be determined, and the school will still need the current impact. It gets worse. Because of the bill, students and, moreover, their parents will think accommodations directly follow from a disability. No, it does not.
The school can still inform you that an evaluation showing the current significant impact level is needed. Why? It’s the only thing that can verify the current impact with validity and reliability. The bill and its proponents will never tell you that. A lie of omission.
What’s the motivation?
It’s logical to ask if the bill does nothing, then why even have it? Here’s the reason—faculty training. Several factions come together to support this bill for their reasons. It’s a perfect storm of support from various groups that otherwise would not be involved. Some people support college as a right. Some support the bill to gain more access for those with hidden disabilities.
It’s not that I don’t support more access for those with hidden disabilities. I do. I don’t support college as a right. Also, I don’t support improving access by legislative fiat with a bill that does nothing and manipulates everything. Further, some college access supporters want to eliminate paper documentation and rely on the student’s report. Yeah, no problems there at all (sarcasm intended). Then, there are the folks that want K-12 to become K-16. No lie.
The K-16 crowd is a big group. What’s their main issue? No support for those with learning disabilities and 504 plans in the same way as K-12. The K-16 people want to change that, like yesterday. They believe that college is not only a right but that the way college is set up is a detriment to their child’s success. Their child cannot go to college because the supports aren’t there to help them be successful.
These folks never address the real reason for college existing, students being qualified to attend and remain there, or the purpose of faculty. They want their kid to attend college. THE. END.
What’s the main complaint? Faculty have no clue how to teach students with learning disabilities. I attended a webinar about the RISE Act given by a leading advocacy group. The presentation used statistics and evidence that college faculty aren’t trained teachers and have no training in teaching students with learning disabilities. It was just a 45-minute presentation designed to scare parents and gin up support for the RISE Act.
Faculty training was included in the original writing of the bill and later taken out. It’s the main reason for the bill’s existence. It’ll be back.
I’m not a lawyer, but it does not take a lawyer to see the inherent conflict that may arise between this bill if becoming a law and the ADA. The ADA’s definition of a disability is specific. Disability is not defined by documentation alone. However, the RISE Act doesn’t amend the ADA. However, it does not account for how the ADA defines disability or how the RISE Act conflicts with it. That’s a fight no one wants to take on. So, the senator decided to amend a different act related to higher education from 1965. That is clever on the senator’s part, but he’s a politician, so manipulation and being clever are part of the skillset.
The bill states, “Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to preclude an institution from establishing less burdensome criteria than that described in subparagraph (A) to establish an individual as an individual with a disability and therefore eligible for accommodations.” This is so manipulative and a lie. I see only problems.
First, the bill only establishes that the documentation makes the student someone with a disability NOT that they are, therefore, eligible for reasonable accommodations. It does not mandate accommodations, but it would like to give you the impression it does.
Second, it is just a suggestion to institutions to have less rigorous policies for documentation. Ok, fine, suggest, but a suggestion is not a legal requirement to give your student anything, nor is it a mandate to have more flexible policies.
Third, It also allows schools to have transparent policies on determining whether a student has a disability. Why make that statement if the law establishes a student has a disability and that accommodations directly follow? Because they don’t. It begs the question. How do colleges determine a disability? The ADA’s definition of a disability. The bottom line is the RISE Act conflicts with it.
There are better ways than just the law.
If you kept reading, it’s no secret that I dislike this law. I hope you see, as I do, that the Rise Act is a lie from start to finish. I have suggestions that do not require any law or conflict with any other law.
1. Have the education secretary set guidelines for all school districts to update every student’s evaluation by the end of senior year. If Obama had a pen and a phone, a presidential executive order would do just nicely.
2. Have the Department of Education create guidelines for the Summary of Performance documents for students with learning disabilities that include the following: the name of the disability, a summary of the disability from the evaluation, a list of the functional limitations, and a list of the accommodations appropriate for college.
3. Include a short description of the disability in the IEP. Some schools do this already, but making it standard would be extremely helpful.
The RISE Act gets no support from me. No lie. It’s a bad law that manipulates parents at the expense of the students it’s stated to support. The RISE Act manipulates, lies by omission, and obfuscates a process that has been in place since the ADA was passed. I do not encourage anyone to support it.