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Review of Special-Ed. Program Called a 'Whitewash'

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A parents' group in Fairfax County, Va., is calling a federal review of the school district's special-education programs a "whitewash.''

The long-awaited report on the investigation, released late last month, concludes that county school officials have made "major improvements'' in their programs for handicapped students in response to the parents' complaints.

However, it adds, state school officials should continue to monitor the county's special-education programs, particularly to ensure compliance with the federal requirement that handicapped students be educated in the "least restrictive ennironment'' possible.

Virginia officials plan to conduct their own review of Fairfax County's programs for the handicapped in September, according to the report.

Federal officials made no recommendations for corrective actions.

The investigation by the U.S. Education Department's office of special-education programs was conducted in December at the urging of federal legislators and the parents' group, Parents For Compliance, which has claimed that county school officials routinely violate federal special-education laws.

Betty Schimmel, a spokesman for the group, said that parents had seen no evidence of the changes described in the report.

"The [Education] Department never said they have to fix what's wrong,'' she said. Federal investigators also did not address some of the parents' major concerns, she added.

According to the report, county school officials, responding to complaints, expanded their definition of "multi-handicapped,'' and began to document the basis for student-placement decisions. The report did not determine whether handicapped students were being placed in the "least restrictive environment'' because, it says, such information could not be found in the schools' files.--D.V.

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