UPDATE: The website appeared to be up and running as of 9:45 p.m. Thursday. A message posted on the site said the resources available before Feb. 8 have now been restored. On Friday afternoon, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a statement about the outage, saying that the site and its server had been “neglected” for nearly four years. “This behavior is unacceptable,” DeVos said. “The restored IDEA.ed.gov site has been moved to a new server, and I’ve instructed Department staff to begin working with stakeholders to build a new and improved site. This exercise is an example of complacency I won’t accept, and I remain committed to improving the Department and its services.”
Original post, 5:21 p.m.:
A government website that explains a key federal law for students with disabilities has been down for more than a week, heightening concerns among parents and advocates about the Trump administration’s commitment to special education.
A department official said the site has been troubled by technical glitches and that IT experts are not comfortable restoring the site at this point because its server remains unstable and could crash at any time. The agency is working on a long-term solution as quickly as possible, the official said, and in the meantime has moved some of the website’s material to a different URL. Everything that was available on the website is available elsewhere on the main Education Department site, the official said.
But parents, teachers and advocates said that some of the site’s most useful resources — such as videos and hands-on training materials — remain unavailable or impossible to find. They can’t fathom why the agency has not been able to fully restore the site, and they said they’ve been unable to get answers from department officials.
“There’s been no estimate of when it’ll be restored, no explanation of why it’s not there,” said Mark Miller, who blogs about special-education issues and is a Montgomery County, Md., parent of a child with special needs. “It makes people feel like we’re not important and our children are not important. Their communication has been very poor and is contributing to the perception that this is not a priority for the secretary.”
The website — idea.ed.gov — lays out students’ rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and is meant to provide resources for parents, teachers and others who work with students with disabilities.
It went down in the early morning hours of Feb. 8, an inopportune time for the new administration. It was the first full day in office for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who — after her rocky confirmation-hearing performance — started her job in the hole with many special-education advocates.
At the hearing, DeVos stumbled over questions about the IDEA, a 1975 landmark federal law that promises students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. Advocates worried that she was either not committed to enforcing the law or didn’t understand it. And so when the special-education website stopped functioning, rumors immediately spread on social media that the site been taken down intentionally.
The Education Department worked to dispel those rumors by announcing on Twitter that the site was experiencing server problems, and that officials were working to restore it as quickly as possible. A department official said at the time that the server had been troubled by glitches since around Jan. 27.
A department official told The Washington Post this week that the site was built a decade ago and has not been substantially updated since about 2011. It is managed by a contractor, the American Institutes for Research, which is working with the department to develop a long-term solution to restoring the site. A spokesman for AIR referred questions to the Education Department.
As days have passed with the site still down, parents and advocates have continued to voice concern. Washington state’s two senators sent a letter to DeVos requesting a detailed explanation of the problem and assurances that previously available resources would be fully restored.
“The Department’s failure to keep this critical resource operational makes it harder for parents, educators, and administrators to find the resources they need to implement this federal law and protect the rights of children with disabilities,” said the Feb. 10 letter signed by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
Murray said DeVos had not responded to the letter as of Thursday afternoon. In a statement to The Washington Post, she said it is “deeply concerning and unacceptable” that the site remains down.
“I am hearing from parents who have been impacted by the absence of this critical resource,” Murray said. “During her confirmation hearing Secretary DeVos said she was confused about the federal law protecting students with disabilities, but I am hoping that this confusion is cleared up and she moves quickly to restore this resource and fully explain what happened.”