Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Republican special education bill

The New York Times > Education > Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

We've been expecting bad news from the Republican party. Let's see how bad it is:
The New York Times
November 22, 2004
Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 - In updating the law governing special education for the nation's 6.5 million disabled students, Congress has given state and school officials more power to shape the terms for providing services to disabled children, paring down rights that advocates for such students had won during the Clinton administration.

...would make it harder for dissatisfied parents to sue to obtain services for their disabled children. For one thing, they will have to submit to mediation or other meetings to give school officials a last chance to resolve disputes before the courts may intervene.

And if the courts deem a suit frivolous, or aimed at harassing a school system, the bill allows school districts to recover legal costs from parents or their lawyers. Though courts have in the past meted out such penalties on a case-by-case basis, the threat of huge legal fees will now be written into the federal law, a victory for school districts that some advocates for children fear will be used to intimidate parents.

...The law also gives schools greater latitude to remove disabled children who misbehave, shifting to parents the burden of proving that a disability caused disruptive behavior. Previously, it was up to the schools to demonstrate that the misbehavior was unrelated to the student's medical condition and to show they had done everything in their power to help the child.

parents and advocates expressed relief that the final bill abandoned what they saw as the most troubling proposals in an earlier version approved by the House in April 2003.

That version, which was widely supported by school and state officials, would have permitted schools to oust disabled children who violated behavior codes, without considering whether the misbehavior was caused by their disability. It would also have allowed states to limit reimbursements to lawyers who win suits for disabled children against school systems.

... There are some features in the new law that please advocates for the disabled. One, aimed at reducing the over-identification of African-Americans for special education, requires the federal government to better monitor special-education enrollment and investigate racial disparities. Another creates new demands for states to publicly report on the academic progress of disabled students.

Elaine Roberts, a lawyer based in Houston who represents disabled children, said that with the growing importance of standardized exams in rating school performance, schools had tended to exclude disabled students from accountability systems, instead opting to give them alternative exams that can be more open to manipulation...

... The strengthened federal role the new law details, which permits Washington to withhold money from districts that come up short, has infuriated some state officials. They say Congress, since it first passed the law in 1975, has consistently failed to sufficiently finance special education.

David Shreve, the education lobbyist for the National Conference of State Legislators, said that when schools or states failed to fulfill their obligations to educate a disabled child, "you've got to back all the way up the system and figure out why is the promise broken.''

"Many promises are broken because the resources aren't there to follow through on the promise," Mr. Shreve said.
Basically, it's not as bad as it could have been -- mostly because of when it was legislated. The House bill of 4/03 sounds like a real nightmare, but nowadays it would probably become law.

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