Sen. Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts State Senate recently passed legislation to remove existing barriers for students with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities so they can attend public institutions of higher education. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, honors the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 30 years ago by President George H.W. Bush.
Under An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, students would not be required to pass the MCAS, have a high school diploma, meet minimum requirements for academic courses, or take college entrance exams in order to access inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities on college campuses with their peers. In addition, the bill also makes clear that strengthening access to higher education for students with disabilities is a goal of the Commonwealth’s higher education system.
“I am very pleased that we were that we were able to pass this crucial piece of legislation to remove barriers to higher education and open doors to greater opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” said Senator DiDomenico. “As the husband of a special education teacher, I intimately understand that importance of creating a more inclusive education system and creating additional pathways to success for our students with physical and developmental disabilities. I am grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Senator Joan Lovely for their leadership on this issue. It is my sincere hope this bill continues making its way through the legislative process to the Governor’s desk for his signature.”
Building on the success of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) grant program, the bill codifies that program, which enables school districts and public institutions of higher education to partner together to offer inclusive concurrent enrollment initiative options for students with disabilities ages 18 to 22. Since 2007, over 1,200 students with disabilities have taken advantage of the opportunity to participate academically and socially in the life of participating colleges in Massachusetts through the MAICEI program.
In response to the challenges facing school districts and public higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate bill ensures no additional costs are placed on a school district beyond the existing obligations already required under state and federal special education law.
Furthermore, the bill also ensures that colleges are not required to bear any additional costs of providing individual supports and services for students with severe intellectual disabilities, severe autism spectrum disorders, or other severe developmental disabilities who attend the college through the MACEI initiative.
Finally, the bill delays the implementation of the requirements placed on our school districts and higher education institutions within the bill until the 2021–2022 school year.
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.