Speaking out for People with
 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Focus on Special Education

VOR's February 20, 2004 edition of the Weekly E-Mail Updated focused on Special Education. Offered was a collection of articles and other resources for families of children with special needs. Specifically,

  1. About this issue: Special Education
  2. VOR Position on Special Education: Choices for a lifetime; Options for all
  3. Laws and Special Education
  4. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  5. Does "Full Inclusion" Violate Federal Law?
  6. Don't Take Sides on Inclusion
  7. No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
  8. NCLB Analogy: No Dentist Left Behind
  9. Against full inclusion: Special Ed Suit Is Filed in Orange County (excerpts)
  10. Case for inclusion: Chicago's schools warned on special ed (excerpts)

VOR Weekly E-Mail Update
February 20, 2004

=================================================================

  1. About this issue: Special Education
  2. VOR Position on Special Education: Choices for a lifetime; Options for all
  3. Laws and Special Education
  4. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  5. Does "Full Inclusion" Violate Federal Law?
  6. Don't Take Sides on Inclusion
  7. No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
  8. NCLB Analogy: No Dentist Left Behind
  9. Against full inclusion: Special Ed Suit Is Filed in Orange County (excerpts)
  10. Case for inclusion: Chicago's schools warned on special ed (excerpts)

=================================================================
----------------------------------------------------------------
1. About this issue: Special Education
------------------------------------------------------------------

IDEA Reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, lawsuits, settlements, and
parent coalitions. More and more, issues surrounding special education are
the topic of news and advocacy.

This special feature of VOR's Weekly E-Mail Update will focus on special
education. It will provide an overview of issues and perspectives relating
to special education. Like the debate surrounding appropriate service
settings for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities,
the special education debate also tends to focus on access to educational
services in appropriate settings. What is appropriate is central to the
debate and is carried out in the media, statutes, lawsuits, and other
advocacy forums. 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.  VOR Position on Special Education: Choices for a lifetime; Options for all
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Summary: A full continuum of educational options must be maintained to
ensure that choice and access to appropriate supports are available.  VOR
supports true person-centered planning that focuses on persons with mental
retardation as individuals with varying and unique needs and abilities.

Choices for a lifetime; Options for all
Throughout the lifetime of a family member with special needs families are
faced with difficult decisions. When a child has severe mental retardation
or violent and uncontrollable behavior, these decisions are made even more
difficult as families struggle to provide their children with a life full
of experiences and opportunity for maximum potential. Appropriate
educational and residential options are among the many decisions families
of children with special needs must face.

Recognizing that every person with special needs has unique strengths,
abilities and needs, Voice of the Retarded (VOR) supports a full array of
educational and residential options. This includes options ranging from
educational services in regular classrooms to self-contained special
education schools or specialized residential settings. Similarly, VOR
believes that residential options should mirror the diversity of people
with special needs from in-home supports to Intermediate Care Facilities
for the Mentally Retarded (i.e., institutions). In every case, VOR
advocates that the final determination of what is appropriate depends on
the needs of the individual.

VOR is the only national organization supporting a full array of
residential and educational options. Other groups oppose specialized
educational and residential opportunities in favor of full mainstreaming,
closed admissions and elimination of the ICF/MR option. VOR opposes these
initiatives because they limit legitimate choice and dismantle programs
that are specially designed to assist individuals with severe mental
retardation, medical complexities, and extreme behavioral challenges.
Furthermore, elimination of many ICFs/MR across the country have meant that
adults with severe mental retardation, medical complexities and/or
behavioral issues are without adequate services, especially when they age
out of an educational program.

VOR's Mission is to preserve the full continuum of educational and
residential placement options. VOR has people across the country that can
help get information on all types of schools and residential placements.
Please consider supporting VOR through your membership contribution. All
people with mental retardation need your help and support.

------------------------------------------------------
3.  Laws and Special Education
------------------------------------------------------

http://www.nichcy.org/resources/laws2.htm

This web resource page of the National Dissemination Center for Children
with Disabilities offers an overview and helpful links related to four laws
impacting education of children with disabilities:

*Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
*No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
*Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
*Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, Section 504 (Section 504 is a
civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
This law applies to, among other entities, public elementary and secondary
schools).

Information on IDEA and NCLB to follow.
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------
4.  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
----------------------------------------------------------------------

IDEA is our nation's special education law. The most recent amendments to
this important federal law were passed by Congress in 1997 and are known as
IDEA '97. IDEA guides how states and school districts provide special
education and related services to more than six million eligible children
with disabilities. Source: National Dissemination Center for Children with
Disabilities.

Every year, under this federal law, millions of children with disabilities
receive special educational services designed to meet their unique needs.

*For infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth through two) and their
families, these special services are provided through an early intervention
system.

* For school-aged children and youth (aged 3 through 21), special education
and related services are provided through the school system.

These services can be very important in helping children and youth with
disabilities develop, learn, and succeed in school and other settings. At a
minimum, States must follow IDEA's requirements when they provide these
services. Source: "What's Reauthorization All About?" by Susan Goodman,
http://www.nichcy.org/reauth/goodman.htm#history.

IDEA is divided into four sections, called Part A -- D. Each part relates
to some area of educating children and youth with disabilities. These parts
are . . .

*PART A defines the terms used in the law.

*PART B gives money to States to provide services for eligible children and
youth with disabilities. Part B includes the rules and regulations that
States and school systems must follow to receive funds from the Federal
government.

*PART C is the Early Intervention Program for Infants and Toddlers with
Disabilities. This program helps States develop and operate a system for
providing early intervention services to infants and toddlers and their
families. This system must include all of the agencies that might provide
services, such as the Department of Education, Health, and Social Services.
Some of these services may include family training, counseling and home
visits, speech-language services, occupational therapy, and physical
therapy.

*PART D helps State education departments and other agencies improve how
they work with children and youth with disabilities. Although lesser known
than Parts B and C, Part D is critically important, because it builds the
capacity of early intervention systems and schools to address the unique
needs of children who have disabilities. Part D provides the information
and research that informs professional practice and families.Source:
"What's Reauthorization All About?" by Susan Goodman,
http://www.nichcy.org/reauth/goodman.htm.

About every five years, Parts C and D of the IDEA must be reauthorized.
This means that these sections of the law will expire (in other words, not
be in force) unless Congress passes them again (hence the word
reauthorization). Part B was considered so important that it is permanently
authorized. This means that it will not expire.

Even though Part B of the law does not have to be reauthorized, changes are
made to it during each reauthorization. Source: "What's Reauthorization All
About?" by Susan Goodman, http://www.nichcy.org/reauth/goodman.htm.

Staff members from the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP)
committee are predicting that the Senate IDEA Reauthorization bill (S.
1248) will come to the floor of the Senate for a vote in March. However,
there is still no firm date for consideration specified.

As previously reported, Senate Democrats and Republicans passed a unanimous
consent agreement before the first session of the 108th Congress ended last
year. This agreement summarizes the conditions under which S. 1248 will be
brought to the Senate floor for debate and a vote, namely the subject
matter and number of amendments that will be offered. Source: "The latest
scoop on reauthorization," February 6, 2004,
http://www.nichcy.org/reauth/scoop.htm.

---------------------------------------------------
5. Does "Full Inclusion" Violate Federal Law?
-----------------------------------------------------

Summary: This is an EXCELLENT overview of IDEA requirements relating to
"full inclusion."

Does "Full Inclusion" Violate Federal Law?
by Bev Johns

We face an increasing problem of a local school or school district adopting
a philosophy of "full inclusion".  For the following reasons "full
inclusion" violates Federal law and Federal regulations, despite some
school administrators saying all students with disabilities have the
"right" to full inclusion in the regular classroom.

THE "right" in IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the
Federal special education law) and the most basic legal concept and very
basis of IDEA is Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Each of those words has meaning. There is no charge for the schooling of
any child with a disability (Free). That schooling shall be individually
tailored to the needs of a child, but cannot be so extensive or expensive
as to do absolutely everything that may be of educational benefit, and
there is no one educational placement for every child (Appropriate).

This right is for schooling paid for with taxes (Public). And IDEA's
greatest emphasis is on the imparting or acquisition of knowledge and
skills (Education), not on a whole variety of other subjects.

A secondary but important right is LRE, but again LRE is individually
determined. In both the legislative language of IDEA and in its regulations
is the concept of the "continuum of alternative placements".  In fact the
"continuum of alternative placements" is a REQUIRED part of LRE.

The IDEA Regulations have headlines beginning each section of the regs.
Under "LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE)" are seven subparts. The first
is "Sec. 300.550 General LRE Requirements". The second is "Sec. 300.551
Continuum of Alternative Placements" and it requires under (a) that "Each
public agency shall ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is
available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special
education and related services."

This is a mandatory requirement: the words are "shall ensure". The
"continuum required" (again the word is "required") is defined in (b) as
"alternative placements" including "regular classes, special classes,
special schools" etc.

Of course the word "inclusion" is not in IDEA and not in the IDEA
Regulations. In all the decisions in all the special ed cases only one
District court Judge has ever declared that inclusion is a right (10 years
ago), and that statement was NOT included when the Circuit (Federal
Appellate) court issued a decision on appeal of the same case.

Although the Judge in the Corey H. case stated that LRE is the "foremost"
requirement of IDEA, no Federal Appellate Court has ever so ruled. In fact
these courts have consistently held that (when they conflict) FAPE
overrules LRE, that FAPE is more important than LRE.

In simplistic tems, that "education" is more important than "placement" in
the regular classroom.

In Rowley, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the IEP team decision must be
based on what will provide "educational benefit".

Who decides placement for an individual student along the required
"continuum of alternative placements"? ONLY the IEP team - NOT a school
principal, not a school superintendent, not a school board - has any
authority whatever to make such placement decisions. And that decision is
 to be made by the IEP Team only AFTER it makes almost all other decisions
about that particular child.

There is no "right" whatsoever for a school, a school district, or even a
State to adopt a philosophy of "full inclusion" and to place every student
with a disability (or almost every student with a disability) in the
regular classroom. As a matter of current law and regulation that action
would violate the law.

-----------------------------------------------------------
6.   Don't Take Sides on Inclusion
------------------------------------------------------------

Summary: This editorial was featured recently in a VOR Weekly E-Mail
Update, but is being shared here again due to the special focus of this
Update.

Don't Take Sides on Inclusion
By Marcie Roth
The Ragged Edge, September 2003

I have been fighting for children with disabilities to be able to receive a
free appropriate public education since before PL 94-142 -- now called the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA -- was passed, back in
1975. I have represented hundreds of families as they fought to get their
children that free appropriate public education in their neighborhood
school, in the classroom the child would have attended if they didn't have
a disability.

I have been active in the leadership of national organizations fighting for
inclusion. I've provided training and technical assistance to states,
communities, school districts and schools on exactly how to include
students with disabilities in general ed.

Funded by U. S. and the state department of education, I spent three years
in classrooms across my state, showing school teams how to include
students. I've been widely published on the topic of inclusion, and have
developed a number of tools that are in use today in general ed classrooms.
I can honestly say I've never met a child who can't successfully be
included, under the "right" circumstances, no matter what.

Yet last spring I put my 11-year-old son Dustin on a short bus and sent him
to a segregated school in another county at a cost of $50,000-plus per year
to the taxpayers of my community.

Shocking? You can only imagine.

I have been battling with our school system for four years to get Dustin
the educational supports and services he needs -- and is legally entitled
to -- without success. Despite intervention from the Maryland State
Department of Education, the U. S. Department of Education, Congress, the
White House, and even a superbly honest article by reporter Jay Mathews
that ran in the Feb. 6 Washington Post, Dustin's Individualized Education
Plan -- his "IEP" -- was never implemented. Not for one day.

This is not just my view of things, but the actual "Findings" from the
Maryland State Department of Education. (I have four such "Letters of
Findings.") No behavior support plan, no keyboarding, no extra set of books
for home, inadequate testing, outright lies. And then there was the abuse,
also honestly portrayed in the Washington Post.

Despite it all, rather than implement Dustin's IEP, as required by law, my
school system decided they "couldn't" serve him. They wanted him placed in
a segregated school, in another county.

I was fortunate, though. Because of our high profile (and the Washington
Post article), I was able to reject the hellholes they tried to send Dustin
to (where 4-point restraint and timeout rooms are still in use), and
managed to get him into a truly wonderful school, as segregated schools go.

In less than two weeks, my previously devastated child began to blossom. I
have never seen him as proud as he was when he signed his name to a gift
for his grandparents. He looked at me, beaming, and said "Look what the OT
taught me to do!" Dustin was supposed to have received occupational therapy
services as far back as 1998, but it took until now for it to actually
happen.

I bet you're wondering why I didn't take legal action to force
implementation of the IEP. I tried. I did as much as I could. A few
wonderful people stepped up to help me, but I was unable to afford the
legal battle I needed to fight, and I was well aware that even with
adequate resources to spend on a lawsuit ($50,000 or more), I was likely to
lose anyway. There are very few legal resources for people like me. Just
last year, I spent $8,000 out of pocket, paying expenses for professional
experts to attend meetings -- professionals I would have needed to use as
expert witnesses in a hearing had I pursued a lawsuit. This was in addition
to the $14,000 I spent out of pocket on copays for healthcare, after my
really decent health insurance paid its portion.

While I was struggling to pay experts to attend meeting after meeting, as I
fought for my child's right to an education, my school system was paying
lawyers $650 an hour or more to fight parents like me. Where did they get
that money to spend? Taxpayer dollars, of course! they used my taxpayer
dollars -- yours, too -- against my child.

Dustin's neighborhood school should be able to include him. But they have
proven that they have neither the will nor the way to do it. I am a staunch
inclusionist who now says: you're wasting your breath on that argument.

My new friends -- parents of kids in segregated schools -- will fight to
the death to keep these segregated schools -- until we can be guaranteed
that "inclusion" will not hurt our children.

I am far more aware than most that it really is possible to get inclusion
right. I'm also far more aware than most of just how wrong "inclusion" is
when it's not right.

My child will no longer pay a price for my ideology. He's paying a
different price right now -- the price of being segregated from his
nondisabled peers. I get to live with the guilt of allowing this.
Supporting it, even.

If you want to be part of the solution, don't take sides on inclusion. Put
your energy toward demanding full implementation and enforcement of IDEA.
Until our children are assured that the law will really be implemented and
enforced, the rest of the debate is irrelevant.

Marcie Roth is executive director of the National Spinal Cord Injury
Association and a longtime national disability rights advocate.

-------------------------------------------------------
7.  No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
--------------------------------------------------------

Internet Education Exchange
http://www.iedx.org/article_1.asp?ContentID=EN751&SectionGroupID=NEWS

Schools serving special education studentsmany with disabilities making it
more difficult for them to learn  will no longer be penalized for those
children's low test scores. Announced by the United States Department of
Education, a new provision of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law
offers school districts greater flexibility in meeting NCLB's requirements
for measuring student achievement and improving academic performance.

NCLB, enacted in January 2002, requires states annually to test all
children to determine if schools are meeting goals for what NCLB calls
"adequate yearly progress" or (AYP). The results from the annual tests
alert to parents and educators about the quality of education children
receive. The ultimate goal of NCLB is to make certain all children are
proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Before the new NCLB provision, the 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Act
(IDEA) was interpreted to require that disabled students be tested along
with other students, and their scores be counted in the assessment of their
schools. Special education students held to the same standards as other
students often failed the standardized test could not be considered
"proficient." Many schools have been labeled as "needing improvement"
because their disabled students didn't score high enough on tests or
because too few of those students took the tests.

Under the new provision, disabled students will still be tested, but these
studentsup to a maximum 1% of the school population of each school district
and statewill be held to alternate achievement standards considered more
appropriate for children receiving special education. Schools will not be
identified as "needing improvement" if students with disabilities are
unable to achieve at the same level as their peers. The 1% limit will be
relaxed if school authorities can demonstrate that they serve an unusually
large population of disabled students.

A Departmental Fact Sheet summarizing the regulatory guidance, Secretary
Paige's press release, and link to the final regulations can be found at:
http://www.ed.gov/nclb/freedom/local/specedfactsheet.html
http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2003-4/120903a.pdf

The regulation offers important guidance and information for school
psychologists, IEP team members, and other professionals working with
students with disabilities.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
8.  NCLB Analogy: No Dentist Left Behind
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Summary: This editorial illustrates the concerns that some (particularly
educators) have regarding general application of NCLB.

No Dentist Left Behind Act
John S. Taylor
Superintendent of Schools, Lancaster County, PA School District

The Best Dentist---"Absolutely" the Best Dentist. My dentist is great! He
sends me reminders so I don't forget checkups. He uses the latest
techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I've got all my teeth,
so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he'd heard
about the new state program. I knew he'd think it was great.

"Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness  of
dentists with their young patients?" I said. "No," he said. He didn't seem
too thrilled. "How will they do that?"

"It's quite simple," I said. "They will just count the number of cavities
each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a
dentist's rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below
average, and Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best
dentists. It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better.
Poor dentists who don't improve could lose their licenses to practice."

"That's terrible," he said.

"What? That's not a good attitude," I said. "Don't you think we should try
to improve children's dental health in this state?"

"Sure I do," he said, "but that's not a fair way to determine who is
practicing good dentistry."

"Why not?" I said. "It makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, it's so obvious," he said. "Don't you see that dentists don't all
work with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can't control.
For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from
deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class
neighborhoods.  Many of the parents I work with don't bring their children
to see me until there is some kind of problem; I don't get to do much
preventive work."

"Also," he said, "many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too
much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand
the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off," he added, "so
many of my clients have well water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it.  Do you have
any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?"

"It sounds like you're making excuses," I said.

I couldn't believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.
"I am not!" he said. "My best patients are as good as anyone's, my work is
as good as anyone's, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than
a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most."

"Don't get touchy," I said.

"Touchy?" he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was
clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his
teeth. "Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated
average, below average, or worse. My more educated   patients who see these
ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my
ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I'll be left
with only the most needy patients.

"I think you are overreacting," I said. "'Complaining, excuse making and
stonewalling won't improve dental health'...I am quoting from a leading
member of the DOC," I noted.

"What's the DOC?" he asked.

"It's the Dental Oversight Committee," I said, "a group made up of mostly
lay persons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved."

"Spare me," he said, "I can't believe this. Reasonable people won't buy
it," he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, "How else would you
measure good dentistry?"

"Come watch me work," he said. "Observe my processes."

"That's too complicated and time consuming," I said. "Cavities are the
bottom line, and you can't argue with the bottom line. It's an absolute
measure."

"That's what I'm afraid my parents and prospective patients will think.
This can't be happening," he said despairingly.

"Now, now," I said, "don't despair. The state will help you some."

"How?" he said.

"If you're rated poorly, they'll send a dentist who is rated excellent to
help straighten you out," I said brightly.

"You mean," he said, "they'll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to
show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have
probably had much more experience? Big help."

"There you go again," I said. "You aren't acting professionally at all."

"You don't get it," he said. "Doing this would be like grading schools and
teachers on an average score on a test of children's progress without
regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and
stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one
would ever think of doing that to schools."

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

"I'm going to write my representatives and senator," he said.

"I'll use the school analogy-surely they will see the point."

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger
that I see in the mirror so often lately.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
9. Against full inclusion: Special Ed Suit Is Filed in Orange County
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Summary: As the push for full inclusion/mainstreaming continues, more
coalitions of families are forming to demand their right to choose the most
appropriate educational setting for their children with disabilities. One
such coalition -- the Community Coalition for Educational Options (CCEO)
was featured in the most recent issue of The Voice, VOR's newsletter. The
following article is about a group of families who have taken their right
to choice to court.

Special Ed Suit Is Filed in Orange County
Four families sue three districts, arguing that a cutback gives
learning-disabled children an education inferior to that mandated by law.
By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times
December 23, 2003

The parents of four children with severe learning disabilities have sued
three Orange County school districts, accusing them of providing inadequate
instruction for students in need of special education.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Santa Ana against Saddleback Valley
Unified, Capistrano Unified and Laguna Beach Unified, stems from
Saddleback's decision this year to close elementary classes at the
district's specialized school and move the students to other campuses.

Lawyers for the parents want a judge to certify the suit as a class action
on behalf of all learning-disabled students in the three districts. The
four families are demanding that the Saddleback district restore classes
for their children at Esperanza School in Mission Viejo. Esperanza, the
only school in the area that exclusively teaches students with severe
learning disabilities, admits children from the three districts.

This year Saddleback administrators, citing logistical and philosophical
concerns, moved Esperanza's younger students to special education classes
at other schools.

Standing in a small park across from the federal courthouse in Santa Ana
with other families from Esperanza who gathered to announce the suit, lead
plaintiff Trisha Kihano said her 10-year-old son Tyler, who has Down
syndrome and cannot speak, responded well to the concentrated attention he
received at the school.

Kihano added that her son has grown more combative and disruptive since
moving to a new school, where he is overwhelmed by the large student body
and the special education classroom is surrounded by a chain-link fence for
his safety.

Daniel Barrett, son of plaintiff Linda Shumay, suffers from Costello
syndrome, a disease that retards physical and mental development. As a
ninth-grade student, Daniel was not removed from Esperanza, but his mother
said she joined the lawsuit out of concern that the district might close
higher grades.

Also joining the suit is Pamela Nippel and her daughter Bailey, a
third-grader who attended Capistrano schools before transferring to
Esperanza; and Maria Ramirez and her son Manny, who has Down syndrome. The
suit says Saddleback administrators manipulated Bailey Nippel's paperwork
to keep her out of Esperanza and persuaded Manny Ramirez's mother to
unknowingly  sign away her son's rights to some classes.

The lawsuit is based on the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act, which requires school districts to provide every learning disabled
student with an individually tailored education in the "least restrictive
environment."

Capistrano district Supt. James A. Fleming countered that the cost of
special education places a heavy burden on school districts, and that cases
like this one will continue to arise until the federal government starts to
provide the funding promised in the special education laws.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10. Case for inclusion: Chicago's schools warned on special ed
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chicago's schools warned on special ed
State accuses city of segregating disabled students
By Lori Olszewski
The Chicago Tribune
February 10, 2004

The Illinois State Board of Education is threatening to take over special
education spending in the Chicago Public Schools unless the school system
stops segregating disabled students from their regular education peers.

A highly critical report issued last week by the state special education
division slams Chicago for violations of federal law centering on a
requirement that students with disabilities be served in what the educators
call "the least restrictive environment."

That means, whenever possible, youngsters with disabilities should be
served in neighborhood schools in regular education classrooms. If students
must be segregated for documented educational reasons, they still should be
able to go to school assemblies, eat lunch with other children and
participate in classes such as gym and music.

The state found that none of the 49 Chicago schools it monitored in 2002-03
had "demonstrated that children are being served in the least restrictive
environment to the extent appropriate." In addition, based on four years of
reviews of a larger pool of some 200 schools, the state made broad
conclusions about the system as a whole. Chicago, the third largest school
district in the nation, has some 600 schools. About 57,000 students, or 13
percent, are in special education.

Critics contend the state board is coming down hard on Chicago in an
attempt to justify its existence. The special education report, however, is
an annual requirement unrelated to the current political squabble. It
actually stems from a 1992 federal lawsuit known as the "Corey H" case,
which was filed by a group of special education parents against Chicago
schools and the state. The Chicago system reached a settlement in the case
in late 1997, but the state settled later. Both settlements require
monitoring.

The report, the fourth since the settlement, is by far the harshest to
date. It includes a litany of criticisms ranging from not testing all
special education students as required by the No Child Left Behind Act to
failing to provide adequate services to special education students in
charter schools.

The state board has been under pressure from federal education officials to
be more aggressive in its monitoring of special education programs. In a
letter dated Dec. 31, 2002, the U.S. Department of Education told the state
board it was not in compliance with federal law because of its lax
monitoring system. It also said that the board "has not ensured that all
children with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive
environment."

Parents of special education children who have been complaining to the
state about the same issues for years say the strong criticism is overdue.

The state board gave the school system staggered deadlines of up to two
months to fix the problems. If it doesn't, the board could take control of
the system's federal dollars for special education in the next school year.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Peter Cunningham said the report
"overstates" the problems and fails to reflect the substantial progress the
district has made on special education since the legal settlement. School
officials received the report on Friday and had not yet prepared their
response.

The sample of 49 schools monitored by the state skewed the results,
according to Cunningham and Chicago special education officials. He said
Chicago has spent about $2.75 million a year since 1998-99 to train staff
in 238 schools on how to best integrate special education students into
regular classrooms. The schools with the training reflect where the system
would expect to be doing the best job, but none of those schools was
monitored.

For example, Chicago school officials say the 238 schools where they have
conducted the training have 30 percent more students in "the least
restrictive environment" today than in 1998, before the training began.

That improvement isn't enough for parents who say they cannot get their
children the services they need today.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tamie Hopp

VOR Director of Government Relations & Advocacy