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Home Instruction for an Epileptic Student Solves Idaho School

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Moscow, Idaho--Linda Royse attends a one-room school here, but not the kind that still exists in a few rural communities scattered throughout the West. Hers is a spare bedroom in the modest tract home of Donald Royse, a Moscow barber, and his wife Mary.

Fourteen-year-old Linda suffers from severe epileptic seizures, which began after she fell from a church stage nine years ago and burst a major blood vessel in her brain. Despite daily doses of a powerful anti-epileptic medicine, the seizures have grown more frequent and more severe.

Linda Royse is one of about four million students across the country who have been identified as requiring the kinds of special services mandated by P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Only a small percentage of them, however, must be educated at home.

Since its passage in 1975, the law and the regulations generated by it have been sources of considerable controversy, as school officials struggled to provide the nation's handicapped children with "equal access" to education.

The high costs and specific problems associated with delivery of such services have placed new burdens on state and local educational agencies--particularly those in rural or economically depressed areas of the country. As these agencies have discovered, per-pupil expenditures for handicapped students vary widely, depending on the nature of individual disabilities.

But most have sought to adapt to the new legal and fiscal complexities of special education--and, in the case of the Moscow district, to respond to the rare dilemmas it can pose.

Some students protected under the law may only require special instruction for part of the day, while children with severe handicaps may be served in residential facilities.

At present, special-education students represent 8 percent of the total school-age population, according to Education Department figures. And the cost of providing educational services to this population, say experts, generally amounts to double the sum allocated for other students.

About 98 percent of the students classified as having special educational needs attend public schools or special disability-oriented facilities, such as schools for the deaf. But a small number--perhaps several hundred thousand--must receive their education through nontraditional sources--tutors in the home, for example. Typically, these children have multiple handicaps. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many of them there are, since the provisions for their education are made individually basis by school boards and superintendents.

Linda Royse is one such child.

Though she attended Moscow schools as a special-education student for seven years, and was "mainstreamed" into regular classes for at least half the school day, her academic performance plummeted as her seizures worsened. Last year, during seventh grade, her attitude toward school and her rate of progress--especially in mathematics and reading--reached an all-time low, said her parents.

When their frequent attempts--with "child-study teams" of teachers, administrators, and outside consultants--to alter her schedule and to provide more individual help through a resource teacher failed to produce an improvement, the Royses began to consider some alternatives to keeping her in a public school.

They decided to set up a "school" in their home with a certified teacher as a private tutor--an alternative that was legal but expensive, the Royses discovered. The couple advertised for a home tutor and hired Mona Roach to provide instruction 15 hours a week at $8 a hour, knowing they would have to struggle to meet expenses.

Then, a few weeks after the 1981-1982 school year began, Linda's doctor confirmed her parents' long-held suspicion that the frequency and intensity of their daughter's epileptic seizures could usually be traced to the length of exposure she had had, from three to 24 hours earlier, to any source of flickering light, such as the fluorescent fixtures used throughout public-school classrooms and offices.

With the problem identified, the family hopes that doctors will be able to find an optical lens that can screen from Linda's brain the flickering stimuli, which not only slow down her achievement in a regular school setting, but prevent her from watching television, shopping in a supermarket or department store for more than 15 minutes at a time, or attending events where special lighting effects are used.

The diagnosis not only brought hope to the Royses, it brought financial relief. By presenting confirmation of this disability in writing to the local superintendent and school board, Linda was officially exempted under Idaho law from the state's mandatory-attendance laws and was eligible for state-supported home tutoring or other contracted, special-education services.

Thus the Royses' bedroom became an extension of the public-school system, and the Moscow district resumed responsibility for Linda's education program, rewriting her individual education plan (iep) to specify 15 hours weekly of home instruction in mathematics, reading, and language arts to meet goals in these areas outlined by her home-room teacher. Ms. Roach, the home tutor, reports to district officials on her student's progress at the end of the school term.

Because of state laws mandating an 80-percent rate of reimbursement to districts for the cost of individualized services to exceptional students, both state and local special-education officials say the public financial support for this unique instructional setting will be unaffected either by threatened cutbacks in federal funding for education or by proposed changes in federal laws relating to special education.

In fact, it appears that Idaho's singular bedroom school will be sanctioned by both state and district as long as Linda must receive home schooling.

Temporary Illness or Injury

Instruction of homebound students in any state is typically limited to the duration of a temporary illness or injury. But Linda's condition cannot be considered temporary and as a result, her case appears to be unique, said Martha Noffsinger, Idaho state supervisor of special education.

"But though it stretches the provision for state-supported home tutoring, it certainly doesn't violate the intent behind the provision," she said, "even if the situation remains unchanged until Linda completes her high-school requirements."

Idaho's laws mandating state funding for exceptional children date back to 1972, well before the federal enactment of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The proportion of state-to-local funding, however, has been worked out through a process of trial and error, said Judith Schrag, a former state supervisor of special education who was instrumental in determining the present funding formula.

Under the formula, which was approved by the state legislature in 1974, districts are reimbursed from the state's general fund for up to 80 percent of the salaries of personnel employed in special-education programs, plus an additional amount per child enrolled in the programs, to cover the cost of textbooks, supplies, special transportation needs, and other related items.

Ms. Schrag, who is now with the Washington state department of education, said she is convinced the Idaho formula "is one of the best funding systems in the country," based on a recent nationwide listing of state services compiled by the Education Commission of the States.

According to a January report prepared by the state department of education and delivered to the legislature, about 11 percent of Idaho's general-fund appropriation for education was spent to meet the special needs of exceptional children during fiscal year 1980-81.

Even with the 80-percent reimbursement from the state, however, the Moscow school district pays at least one-third more for Linda's instructional services (including her teacher's salary and supplies) than the $2,200 it spends on instructional services for the "average" child, said Jack J. Kaufman, chairman of the Moscow school board.

"I personally think we have an obligation to all students," Mr. Kaufman explained. "While education is not a constitutionally guaranteed right, if we're going to give it to one, we're going to have to give it to all. Those people aren't excused from taxes, after all."

Last year, in fact, the cost to have Linda "mainstreamed" into regular seventh-grade classes was twice as much, said Superintendent Alethia Fasolino, because the district employed a full-time aide to accompany Linda wherever she went to see that she did not hurt herself when she fell and lost consciousness during severe "grand mal" seizures.

Slightly over 11 percent of Moscow's $5.7-million budget has gone to cover special-education expenses for 375 of the 2,500 students enrolled in the system this year, said district officials. (Moscow's special-education program includes the gifted and talented as well as the handicapped.)

And through board action, override levies, and bond elections, the district provides more than twice the minimum number of specialists, psychologists, and gifted and talented personnel required by state or federal law. It has already complied with state and federal directives to provide equal access to buildings for handicapped students, including installation of a $50,000 elevator in the newly remodeled high school.

In addition, the district has established self-contained classrooms for the severely developmentally disabled at each level of elementary and secondary schooling, and has instituted a summer-school program for handicapped students to help ensure that they do not backslide academically over the long vacation break.

Linda Royse and her parents are grateful beneficiaries of Moscow's efforts on behalf of handicapped students. Aided by her medication and removed from the stimulus of flickering lights, Linda is making academic gains slowly and painfully, her teacher reports.

Both parents said they are "more than satisfied" with the progress Linda shows in her home-tutoring situation. And the Royses have taken on several extra part-time jobs to pay for three additional hours of instruction per week in history and art, and $2 per hour more for Ms. Roach above the $6 per hour that the district pays.

Though admitting that the family could not stand much more of a financial burden, Mr. Royse said he and his wife do not mind paying for the added quality of Linda's program. The decision to pull Linda from the mainstream in the first place, he explained, was based on their belief that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of a child.

"Maybe all parents should be made to pay more for their child's education," he said. "I think they'd take more interest in it then."

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