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The U.S. Education Department has fired Jeff Champagne, the official in charge of monitoring state special-education programs, and observers say the move portends big changes for the beleaguered program.

Mr. Champagne left his job as director of the division of assistance to the states on May 16. In that post, he was the top-ranking official in charge of oversight within the office of special-education programs.

William Schipper, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, said Mr. Champagne's removal is "a signal that monitoring is a priority problem spot that will be tended to immediately under the new Administration."

The department's monitoring efforts have been criticized by nasdse and other groups for years; some state compliance reports have taken as long as three years to complete, they have charged. Recently, however, department officials had claimed that the monitoring "logjam" had been broken.

Mr. Champagne could not be reached for comment last week. He was the sixth director of the division since 1983 and, having served 20 months, he had held the job longer than any of his recent predecessors.

A Massachusetts research firm has been awarded a grant for an unusual study using computers to analyze the handwriting of pupils with dysgraphia and other learning disabilities.

"We can record children's handwriting and play it back," said Littleton Meeks, who is president of the firm, Meeks Associates, Inc. "We can see whether there was a pause between letters, if the children are using jerky or rapid motions and seem to have trouble slowing the pen down, and how quickly they move the pen to make strokes."

Mr. Littleton said his firm will use the $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to analyze the writing and drawing of 150 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders--75 of whom are learning-disabled.

Nonhandicapped students whose drug use causes sporadic emotional problems are not eligible for special education, say federal education officials.

The statement was in answer to an inquiry by the school system in Washington, a city in which drug use has reached epidemic proportions.

Doris Woodson, the district's special-education director, said she raised the issue because the schools were increasingly being faced with students labeled "emotionally disturbed" as a result of drug use.

"If you have a drug episode, that doesn't make you emotionally disturbed," she said. "Yet many of these children did require some kind of psychiatric intervention."


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