Disability Rights Groups Send Letter Opposing Biden’s Potential Education Secretary Pick

The potential nomination of Lily Eskelsen García for the top job at the U.S. Education Department is receiving pushback from disability rights groups.

A coalition of organizations that represent students with disabilities, their families and educators penned a letter to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on Thursday expressing “serious concern” about Eskelsen García.

The group wrote that during her time as president of the National Education Association (NEA), Eskelsen García “oversaw the development of many positions that stood in direct opposition to those taken by parents and parent advocacy organizations in support of children with disabilities.”

Those positions, the letter added, were “detrimental to the success of students with disabilities.”

The coalition criticized the NEA’s position on statewide assessments and the cap on the use of alternative assessments in the Every Student Succeeds Act. They also stated the union didn’t do enough to reduce seclusion and physical constraints in schools.

“As the leader of the NEA, Eskelsen García had the opportunity to steer the organization toward equity and access for students with disabilities but failed to do so,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by nine groups, including the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.

Julia Bascom, the executive director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told Newsweek in an email that “the letter illustrates that the concerns of the disability community are not limited to a single set of comments.”

“Our serious concerns about Ms. Eskelsen García’s lack of commitment to equity and inclusion for students with disabilities are based on the policy positions she has taken and defended over the course of her career,” Bascom continued. “Students with disabilities deserve a secretary of education who will see their potential, honor their civil rights and fight for their full inclusion.”

Eskelsen García, who has reportedly been working to lock up support among lawmakers in her bid to become education secretary, has received support from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. If chosen, she would become the first Latina to serve as education secretary.

lily eskelsen garcia NEA conference 2018
Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association, speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on May 22, 2018. Her potential nomination as U.S. education secretary has received pushback from disability rights groups.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty

In a letter sent to Biden on Monday, the Hispanic caucus offered its “enthusiastic endorsement” of Eskelsen García. The group of lawmakers argued that her close relationship with Congress would bode well for her Senate confirmation.

“Lily’s long record of accomplishments, working across the political divide, and building and maintaining constituencies would make her an excellent Secretary of Education,” the caucus wrote.

Earlier this week, 40 national Latino groups also released a letter endorsing Eskelsen García. The coalition touted her experience as a teacher and president of the largest union in the nation.

Before becoming NEA president, Eskelsen García was a public school teacher. In 1989, she was named Utah’s teacher of the year. She has also served as the president of the Utah State Retirement System and president of the Children at Risk Foundation. She was a commissioner on the White House Commission for Education Excellence for Hispanics under President Barack Obama.

Newsweek reached out to the Biden transition team for a response to the letter but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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