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Special-Ed. Report Cites Shortage of Teachers

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Washington--More than four million elementary- and secondary-school students nationwide--nearly 9 percent of the total school population--are served by special-education programs despite inadequate resources and a shortage of trained personnel, according to the Education Department's report to the Congress on programs for the handicapped.

"For the most part, handicapped children are being served in regular education buildings with their nonhandicapped peers," according to the report, the "Fourth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of Public Law 94-142: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act."

But to meet even present staffing needs, the report concludes, schools would have to increase the number of special-education teachers by more than 43,000, or 20 percent, and the number of support personnel by more than 47,500, or 28 percent. Most districts have had to resort to "extensive inservice training to bolster" the skills of existing professional and support staff, the report notes.

Though they were enacted in 1975, the law's provisions were not fully in place until the 1980-81 school year, because of the need for "an orderly, sequential implementation" of the various components, according to the report.

Programs Expanded

But in the law's wake, the report notes, programs have expanded at all levels.

"Never before has there been such national awareness of the needs of handicapped children or of the services available to meet these children's special needs," asserts the re-port, which is a synthesis of a number of federally funded studies.

"Legislation, regulations, policies, procedures, and practices adopted at federal, state, and local levels have significantly improved the educational opportunities available to handicapped children and their families," the report continues.

But because of the high cost of educating handicapped students, the report contends, "certain gaps still exist" in the services provided, especially to secondary-school students.

Citing the results of a survey of 15 school districts, the report states that the cost of a screening program, combined with the fact that relatively few secondary students would be likely to be identified, had affected the schools' decisions not to provide full services at the secondary level.

Justification Difficult

School administrators found it difficult to justify the expense, the report said, "even though some administrators believed that mildly impaired secondary students are not being effectively identified."

Nevertheless, programs for handicapped students in secondary schools served increasing numbers of students, according to the report, while at the elementary level there was very little expansion during the 1980-81 school year.

Although the rate of growth varied from state to state, according to the report, the number of children served in special-education programs nationwide has increased by about 4 percent in the past two years. Over the past five years, the report said, special-education programs have grown by nearly 13 percent nationally.

The report also noted that school districts "are increasingly developing their own programs to serve handicapped children they once placed in private schools." Such programs are generally less costly than private placements.

Most states require private-school students to transfer to public schools before receiving special-education services, the report notes. Such a policy, it says, "poses a problem that needs further attention.''

The report, which was mandated by the Congress, confirms the "negative attitudes" of state and local education agencies toward the time and paperwork involved in preparing individual education programs (iep) for handicapped students.

However, the report notes that despite those feelings, 18 of 20 districts surveyed believed the process was "worthwhile." In fact, the report adds, most of the districts surveyed have instituted procedures that exceed federal requirements.

The iep assessment provision was one of six areas targeted for deregulation by the Reagan Administration. But the proposal drew such strong criticism from the Congress, parents, and advocacy groups that Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell withdrew the department's proposed regulations in September.

Proposals To Be Announced

The department is scheduled to announce new proposals next year.

Other findings of the report:

Since the 1979-80 school year, the numbers of children identified as emotionally disturbed, multihandicapped, and learning disabled have increased significantly. The report suggests that this growth may reflect way the law was phased in.

The number of handicapped children being educated in regular classes increased by more than 200,000 students during the 1980-81 school year. The number of students in self-contained classrooms that same year increased by 5 percent and the number in separate schools increased by 42 percent.

More than two million children were evaluated during the 1979-80 school year. Of those, about 750,000 were evaluated and placed for the first time; 200,000 were found not to need special services.

More than 1,418 due-process hearings were conducted at the state level, and more than 1,166 took place at the local level during the 1979-80 school year. Disputes between parents and school officials most frequently concerned placement and the "least-restrictive\environment" clause of the 1975 law.

The typical cost of private placements ranged from $3,870 to $11,655 per year per student. But the states have reported costs ranging from a low of $2,070 to a high of $24,000 annually.

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