Sen. Lewis Joins Unanimous Vote to Increase Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Developmental Disabilities

On July 27, Senator Jason Lewis joined colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate to support legislation that removes 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.

“Everyone in Massachusetts deserves access to a high quality education, but currently there are numerous barriers preventing some students with disabilities from accessing higher education opportunities,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “The Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative at Middlesex Community College which serves a number of my constituents is a fantastic program, and I’m very pleased that this legislation will enable more students to enroll in programs like this across the Commonwealth.”

“We are proud that many community colleges are already experienced with inclusive concurrent enrollment programs, and know first-hand that participating students gain life skills and education that increase their ability to live more empowered, independent, and inclusive lives,” said Tom Sannicandro, Director of the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges. “This bill creates a life changing opportunity by breaking down barriers to higher education for students with disabilities. We are happy to see the bill move forward to expand this critical program to more students in Massachusetts.”

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 MAICEI initiative.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for their consideration.