Closing Gaps for Students With Disabilities

Topics: Equity and Diversity, Special Education

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE

Just as everything you do is for your students, everything we at NAESP do is for our members. We’re guided by the NAESP Platform, a set of statements that’s updated annually to ensure that they are accurate and relevant in an evolving education landscape.

This year, the Resolutions Committee proposed an update to the statement on supporting students with disabilities, outlining the need for ongoing professional development that helps school leaders understand and address bias, support multilingual learners, and follow culturally responsive practices to mitigate the possible overidentification of traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups of students.

The statement also reiterates the fact that NAESP believes students with disabilities have the right to an appropriate education commensurate with those provided to other students, and that to facilitate the successful inclusion of students with disabilities, schools must have access to the appropriate financial resources, professional learning, and support services.

An estimated 6.7 million children have individualized education plans. While the number of students needing special education services is expected to increase over the next few years, numbers of special educators and specialized instructional support personnel are expected to decrease by the 2025–2026 school year.

Schools can use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to offset this trend. Use the money to provide supports to students with disabilities, including indirect supports such as staffing and professional development that shares high-leverage practices to use in collaboration, assessment, social-emotional learning, and instruction that set this student population up for success.

President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Education have called on states, school districts, and communities to use ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief to ensure that schools are fully staffed, including with mental health professionals, and to provide students with high-quality tutoring, afterschool and summer learning, and enrichment components that support student learning and well-being.

As we begin a new year, we know that your commitment to your schools and communities remains unmatched, and we look forward to continuing to work together to make a difference in the lives of students. Happy New Year!

L. Earl Franks, Ed.D., CAE, is executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.