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E.D. Toughens Licensing Regulations for Special-Education Personnel

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Washington--Ending nearly two years of controversy, the Education Department has published new rules that would require some states to toughen their certification standards for special-education personnel.

Under the new regulations, states would be required to base their special-education certification requirements for particular job categories--such as speech pathologist or school psychologist--on the "highest standard" for that occupation set by any agency or licensing board in the state. School employees who did not meet the new standards would have to be retrained in order keep their jobs.

But, in response to concerns ex4pressed by a number of professional groups, the rules also allow states to treat school-based occupations differently than those in the private sector. For example, a school psychologist would not have to meet the same stringent certification requirements set for a child psychologist in private practice.

The final rules were published in the Federal Register on April 27. Two earlier versions had come under attack for being either too tough or too lenient.

One group of critics argued that schools would have to hire psychologists with doctoral degrees if states were forced to use the "highest standard" for certification. Overly strict standards, they added, would exacerbate critical personnel shortages in the field.

Another version was criticized for being too lax because it allowed states to develop "alternative" personnel standards in some instances.

"We would describe the new rules as being exactly what we wanted," Stan Dublinske, executive director of the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Associa-tion, said last week.

"Children have a right to be served by somebody who is qualified and knows what they're doing," he said.

His organization, which represents 60,000 speech pathologistsand audiologists, had been among those arguing for tougher standards. Mr. Dublinske said 21 states have "dual delivery systems," where education-agency requirements for school personnel are lower than separate licensure requirements for the same profession in that state.

The new regulations implement sections of the 1986 Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments.

Although the main thrust of the law extended special-education services to infants and toddlers, portions of it dealing with personnel standards affect Part B of the Education of the Handicapped Act, which governs special-education services in all districts.--dv

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