Palau complies with the United States’ Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). Although inclusive education is not explicitly defined in laws and policies, both the 1989 Programme and Services for Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 3-9), as amended in 1996, and the Special Education Policy mention education for all children.
The Programme and Services for Handicapped Children Act mandates the government:
‘to provide educational services to all children to enable them to lead fulfilling and productive lives … to provide full educational opportunities and necessary related services to each handicapped child in order to ensure that each handicapped child acquires the skills and knowledge necessary to lead a fulfilling and productive life as a citizen of the Republic. It is further recognizes that such educational opportunities and related services shall be provided in regular classrooms and regular schools or other environments which provide education and interaction with non handicapped children to ensure that handicapped students become integral members of community life and fully participating and accepted members of the social, educational, political, and economic institutions of Palauan society’.
The Special Education Policy highlights that in compliance with the Public Law 3-9, as amended in 1996, referred to as the Programmes and Services for Handicapped Children Act of 1989, education shall be free, appropriate and public. Education is ‘made available to every child birth through 21 years of age, inclusive, residing in the ROP [Republic of Palau], including any child with disabilities who has been suspended or expelled from school, and who is in need of special educational services’.
The 2019 initial report of Palau submitted to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) specifies that ‘all schools have to be inclusive which is to place students with disabilities in general education classroom with their non-disabled peers.’
Special education needs
The 1989 Programme and Services for Handicapped Children Act, as amended in 1996, recognizes children with mental retardation, hearing impairments, speech or language impairments, visual impairments, serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities or developmental delay as in need of special education services.
According to the Special Education Policy Section VII, and in line with the Special Education Procedural Manual, children placed in special education programmes benefit from supportive services which shall be ‘age-appropriate, occur close to home – within the school the child would attend if not disabled, unless the Individualized Education Plan requires some other arrangement – and involve maximum integration with non-disabled peers.’ Integration occurs through academic, social, extracurricular and community activities within the school programme.
The special education programme ensures that ‘to the maximum extent appropriate’ learners with disabilities receive education with their peers. Special classes, separate schooling or the exclusion of children with disabilities from regular education settings occur ‘only if the nature or severity of the child’s disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.’
As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Palau endorsed the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action Towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. The 2010–15 Pacific Regional Strategy on Disability paved the way to strengthen cooperation across Pacific Island governments on disability issues and to bolster the implementation of the CRPD, ratified by the country in 2013.
Article VI of the 1992 Constitution of Palau highlights that ‘The national government shall take positive action to attain these national objectives and implement these national policies: … provision of public education for citizens which shall be free and compulsory as prescribed by law.’ It sets that ‘every person shall be equal under the law and shall be entitled to equal protection’ and prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of ‘sex, race, place of origin, language, religion or belief, social status or clan affiliation’ while ensuring preferential treatment for specific vulnerable groups, such as ‘minors, elderly, indigent, physically or mentally handicapped, and other similar groups’ (Section 5). The Palau National Code, Title 22, establishes compulsory education for all children between 6 and 17 years of age (Art. 159).
The Disabled Person’s Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits any forms of discrimination, with a specific focus on employment. The 1989 Programmes and Services Handicapped Children Act, as amended in 1996 by the Republic of Palau Public Law 3-9, mandates the national government to ensure free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children, including children with physical or mental impairments, through adequate accommodations and the development of individualized education plans (IEPs) until 21 years of age. The annual IEP is developed and approved by an IEP team that includes parents, special and regular teachers, the school principal and other service providers.
Due to its association with the United States, the Republic of Palau guarantees the right to free and appropriate education for children with disabilities aged 3 to 21, according to the IDEA, as amended in 2004 and cited as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. To comply with the IDEA supplemental regulations, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Palau approved special education policies in 2008 to outline the procedures and assurances as established by the United States Office of Special Education Programmes. The Special Education Policy reiterates the right to FAPE for all, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or excluded from school based on an IEP.
At the First National Convention on Disability in 2001, the need to provide assistance to citizens with disabilities emerged. In 2002, the Palau Severely Disabled Funds Programme was established under the management of the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs. In the 2006–16 Education Master Plan, Palau further committed to continuing to promote a special education programme in order to increase the participation of students with disabilities in the education system.
To accomplish the commitments of the CRPD, Palau drafted its 2015–20 National Disability Inclusive Policy. With the purpose of making Palauan society more inclusive, the policy provides guidelines and recommendations for various actors involved in the protection and promotion of the interests and rights of persons with disabilities and their families to enhance the collaboration and the coordination of their services and to strengthen the activities of non-government and disabled persons’ organizations.
Parents of children with disabilities in Palau were involved in awareness programmes organized by government and non-government agencies before Palau Parents Empowered (PPE) was officially created in 2010. Since then, PPE has consistently collaborated with special education programmes in conducting radio talk shows on the importance of education for children with disabilities. PPE also conducts its own radio talk shows at least once every quarter.
Concerning languages, as established in the Constitution, Palauan indigenous languages, namely Palauan, Sonsorolese and Tobian, are declared as national languages, while Palauan and English are official languages. The Palau National Congress determines the use of each language (Art. 13, Section 1).
Acknowledging language diversity, Palau committed to supporting literacy programmes to increase English proficiency among indigenous groups. It also promoted the use of the local languages and development of Palauan culture in the Palauan language and curriculum, as planned in the 2006–16 Education Master Plan.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for administrating the education system, providing policy and management directions for primary and secondary education levels and for funded special education programmes.
Concerning disability, an inter-agency task force has been set up consisting of representatives of special education, counselling and community services, health practitioners and Palau Parents Network, under the lead of the Ministry of Health. The task force’s role is to coordinate disability services targeted to children and their families, including in education. Cooperation across the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Head Start Programme and the Ministry of Justice is in place for the implementation of programmes and integrated services for children with disabilities to comply with the IDEA provisions, as established in the 2006–16 Education Master Plan. In particular, the Ministry of Health holds the responsibility for health and health-related programmes and the Ministry of Education for education programmes for students with disabilities, including those who are incarcerated; the Republic of Palau Community Action Agency (PCAA) manages Head Start, which provides counselling and community services. Interaction among agencies is required to ensure appropriate and coordinated services to meet the full needs of individuals with disabilities and their families.
While the special education programme of the Ministry of Education coordinates identification procedures, the schools adopt and implement the protocols to ‘identify, locate and evaluate children’ in need, including those with disabilities and learners affected by socio-economic disadvantages. Besides the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health is involved concerning health issues together with the PCAA for counselling.
While the Disabled Person’s Anti-Discrimination Act regulates access to public buildings for persons with disabilities, accessibility is not fully guaranteed due to the lack of rehabilitation centres and assistive devices, including accessible communication formats, such as Braille or sign language interpretation.
Ensuring accessibility for all schools was included as a recommendation in the 2006–16 Education Master Plan. As established by the Special Education Policy, assistive technology devices and/or assistive technology services support the learning development of children with disabilities. On a case‐by‐case basis, the use of school‐purchased assistive technology devices is made available in a child’s home or in other settings if the child’s IEP team determines that the child needs access to those devices in order to receive FAPE.
As prescribed by IDEA and the Programme and Services for Handicapped Children Act, schools and teaching and learning materials are required to be accessible, and individualized reasonable accommodation and support are provided to ensure effective education and full inclusion.
Continuous training and professional development for parents and educators working with learners with disabilities is compulsory, as established by the US federal grant procedures.