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Administration Now Plans To Retain Special-Education Rules, Will Says

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Chicago--The U.S. Education Department has decided not to offer any new proposals for revising regulations for P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, but will work instead with school districts to solve any problems that arise over the existing regulations.

The decision was announced here last week by Madeleine C. Will, the department's assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, during the annual meeting of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

Ms. Will said the department's decision "to shift from regulatory review and revision to technical assistance and financial incentives" in support of state and local problem-solving efforts was based on an analysis of some 30,000 comments submitted in response to the Reagan Administration's proposed regulations and the report of a Congressionally appointed commission on the financing of programs for handicapped children.

The report of the Commision on the Financing of a Free and Appropriate Education for Special Needs Children concluded that the existing regulations did not contribute to the current fiscal problems that school districts are experiencing, according to Ms. Will. In fact, she said, the commission found that many of the problems related to financing special-education services are the result of inadequate attention to the law and its current regulations.

Ms. Will, who was appointed to the assistant secretary's position this past summer, has said that she disagreed with the Administration's proposed regulatory revisions. (See interview on page 15.)

The Administration first promulgated the proposed regulatory changes in the Aug. 4, 1982, edition of the Federal Register. Less than a month later, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell was forced to withdraw six of the Administration's most controversial regulatory proposals after encountering strong criticism from parents, educators, advocacy groups for the handicapped, and members of both houses of the Congress.

At that time, Secretary Bell said the withdrawn regulatory revisions would undergo further study and any new proposals would be announced in the Federal Register.

Written Report

Although the department's analysis of public response has never been released, Shirley Jones, acting director of the division of policy analysis and planning, which was responsible for the study, said her office had provided Ms. Will with a written report on the findings.

Ms. Jones said the report contained three options "for further course of action" by the department, but she declined to describe the full contents of the report.

One of those options, she said, was that the department not make any new proposals for changing the regulations governing the federal handicapped law, but that it provide technical assistance when needed.

In announcing the department's decision last week, Ms. Will said technical assistance and financial incentives would be provided to support "proactive efforts at the state and local level to solve current administrative problems through policy and program initiatives" identified by the finance commission on handicapped children. She did not, however, describe any of those initiatives.

During the state director's meeting, Fred Weintraub, assistant executive director for governmental relations for the Council for Exceptional Children, called the department's withdrawal of the proposed regulations and its subsequent decision to keep the current regulations intact an important victory for the special-education community and the beginning of "a new era" for special-education programs.

"I think the appointment of Ms. Will to assistant secretary on the part of the White House is symbolic of the recognition that handicapped and/or special education is an issue that requires a high level of political and substantive sensitivity," Mr. Weintraub said. "We have said to those who would want to simply turn the hands of the clock back that you will not do it, you will not do away with the laws, you will not do away with the regulations, and you will not do away with the money.

"I would contend we are starting on a more difficult battle ... of proaction and charting new directions ... instead of fighting to stand still," Mr. Weintraub said.

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