Are you thinking this is a real no-brainer? When your child is old enough to attend school, you simply enroll him. Professional educators are better equipped to teach and make educational decisions for all children, including those with disabilities.
Wrong! Would you allow a teacher or school administrator to decide what your child is capable or incapable of learning?
Based upon their personal opinion of your child’s abilities, would you then let these folks decide what your child will and will not be taught or who their school friends will be? Would you also allow them to choose whether your child will go on to college, or a technical school or even receive a regular high school diploma?
Of course not! Suppose school administrators were to tell you, “It is our opinion that reading and writing might be too difficult for your child to master. We’re going to focus instead on teaching those skills that will enable your child to eventually work at a job we feel is more appropriate, like for instance, janitorial work or slinging hash in some fast food place.” You would be justifiably outraged.
That scenario may be overly simplified, yet many parents of children with disabilities often encounter similar situations when they enter the mysterious realm of Special Education.
Although there are state and federal laws in place to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities, they don’t always work as we would like. IDEA is a good example. When Congress enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1997 (IDEA) it was to ensure two basic rights:
- That all children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education.
- The right to that education in the least restrictive environment.
When a child has been determined to be eligible for special education services, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) is developed by a team comprised of the parents, teachers and other school staff. The student’s strengths and needs are assessed. Together it is determined what will be taught to the student, how it will be taught and in what type of classroom. An IEP meeting is held at least once a year.
IDEA also includes rules of procedure for resolving complaints that include mediation and due process hearings. Mediation is when the parents and the school try to come to an agreeable resolution with the help of a trained, impartial mediator. A due process hearing is usually a formal contested trial.
IDEA has improved educational opportunities and outcomes for a vast number of students with disabilities. Yet a report regarding federal enforcement of civil rights laws prepared by the National Council of Disability in January 2000 found that many children with disabilities are still getting substandard schooling because states are not complying with federal rules on special education.
It also found that children with disabilities continue to be taught in separate classrooms and schools are not following other regulations meant to protect these students from discrimination. Now here’s the catch. Although this is a federal law, the US Department of Education doesn’t require states to comply with it.
So it’s up to the parents to sue in order to enforce the law. It is up to you to gather the information, document the evidence, hire attorneys and do it all yourself. Wait! There’s more. Should you undertake this enormous task and prevail legally, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will bring about the desired outcome.
IDEA is a landmark legislation, but no legislation can mandate a change in attitudes. As a parent of a child with a disability, my experience with the public school system has shown me that too many folks are committed to maintaining their outdated beliefs regarding students with disabilities. In many cases, school districts continue to be more concerned with labeling and classifying students than providing a meaningful and appropriate education.
If you have a child with a disability, you should know there are being changes made to IDEA that will negatively impact the quality of education your child receives. You can learn more about this and what you can do at Our Children Left Behind: IDEA Reauthorization Information.