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Proposed Spec.-Ed. Regulations in Dispute

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WASHINGTON--A proposed Education Department regulation that could require some states to set higher standards for professionals working in special education has divided groups representing various interests in the field.

The provision, proposed as part of the regulations governing the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986, PL 99-457, would base personnel standards in special education on the state's highest requirements for each specialist's particular profession.

To the extent that current requirements do not conform to these standards, the proposed rule says, "the state would have to require the retraining or rehiring of personnel that meet appropriate professional requirements in the state.''

Some organizations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Pupil Service Organizations, and a number of special-education groups, have charged that the rule could in some cases raise special-education costs and exacerbate personnel shortages in the field.

They point out, for example, that psychologists working in schools might need a doctorate to match the standards often set for psychologists in private practice--even though doctoral training, which includes a heavy emphasis on clinical research, might not be appropriate for a school setting.

Other groups, however, see the emphasis on meeting the individual profession's standards as a needed safeguard. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association claims, for example, that many state education agencies now routinely hire speech pathologists whose training is less adequate than what the profession advises.

"The intent should be to make sure that consumers in all settings are receiving services from those who are qualified,'' said Stan Dublinske, a director of state and regulatory policy for the speech pathologists' group.

The department's proposal, which was published in the Federal Register in April, is the second version of the personnel-standards regulation. The department orginally proposed allowing state education agencies either to follow the "highest standard'' or to adopt an "alternative'' standard deemed appropriate by the state.

The comment period on the proposed regulations ended June 13.

A department spokesman said final regulations for the new personnel standards are expected sometime before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. --DV

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