Special Education is Not a Place


Imagine living in an institution as a child with disabilities. You are isolated from your peers, your abilities are underestimated, and you are deprived of the special attention and education that you deserve. You are separated from other kids who live on your same street, only because you have a disability. After living in segregation for years, a law is passed that gives equal education rights to you — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

When people see our website that we created for the competition, we want them to go forth with the knowledge of how much IDEA has helped children since 1975. The law has changed the lives of countless children in the United States. When Isabel, Chloe, and I originally made our website for the National History Day (NHD) competition, “Special Education is Not a Place: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” we would never have guessed we, three 7th grade girls, would end up with a guest blog on the Department of Education website. It’s been a long journey for us; we have learned so much! However, it has been an even longer journey for children with disabilities to gain educational rights.

We go to George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va., which participates in the NHD competition. This year, the theme is “Rights and Responsibilities.” We chose the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as our topic for several reasons. We were inspired by “Including Samuel,” a video about a boy with disabilities and his struggles and successes of inclusion, told by his father. Between the three of us we have three relatives who are involved with special education, but we realized many people have no idea what the IDEA stands for and what it does (even us!). We also realized that though civil rights and women’s rights are taught in school, the rights of people with disabilities are mostly left out.

As part of our website, we interviewed the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin to gain additional information on IDEA and special education. We enjoyed speaking with him so much and learned more during the interview about placing and educating students in the “least restrictive environment” and making sure children with disabilities are not discriminated against in the schools.   This interview will be available on our website soon.

We are proud that our work has been recognized and we won first place in our category at the National History Day competition at our school, in regionals, and in our state! Now, our goal is not only to do well in the National competition (fingers crossed!), but to teach as many people as possible about the law that gave everyone the right to learn. IDEA will be 40 years old next year—that’s a lot older than we are! We are so happy that it has helped many before our time, and that it continues to make education better for all of us!

Lily Clausen, Chloe Marsh, and Isabel Frye are 7th grade students at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Virginia.


  1. Dear Lily, Chloe, and Isabel:
    You are incredible and to be admired. Focusing on IDEA is a great way to educate others and become more informed about it yourself. Having a sensitivity towards others and your environment is a trait not everyone holds. I applaud your work, your efforts, and your willingness to spotlight an area which every citizen should understand.

    Thanks for being engaged members of your generation. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!
    Ms. Brannigan
    Mount Vernon Community School
    Alexandria, VA 22305

  2. While I appreciate the desire to always do what is best for our special needs children, I am very uncomfortable with this segregation rhetoric used in the first paragraph. Yes, special needs children were usually put in institutions at one time in our history, but this was not done out of malice. Those institutions were created out of a genuine desire to do what, at that time, was thought to be best for those children. Now we have decided that LRE is the way to go. Fine. But lets not denigrate the hard work that was done by the people who labored in those institutions in days gone by, doing their best to help special needs children to have some quality of life. Currently, 75% of Downs Syndrome babies are aborted. Is that really an improvement in compassion over 1920 ?

  3. I was delighted to learn how we’re cultivating leaders and redefining cool! As an educator, I truly believe school is the hub of every community and inclusion is the key to any healthy society.

  4. I thought this website most informative.
    I am a student teacher in the UK and have just done a module on Special educational needs and inclusion in UK and thought these girls did an amazing job for the USA.
    The only thing I wish they had put on their website was a place to leave a comment. I would have loved to say ‘Terrific and so easy to understand’.

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