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Special Education Column

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A new nationwide poll suggests that although most parents of handicapped students are satisfied with their children's educational programs, there are still weaknesses in the nation's special-education system.

Pollsters for Louis Harris and Associates Inc. interviewed 1,000 parents of handicapped students, 702 educators, and 200 handicapped students. They found that 77 percent of the parents said they were satisfied with their children's programs, although many--56 percent--said they had to fight to obtain those services.

But both parents and educators rated schools poorly for their effectiveness in preparing handicapped students for work or further study after high school. Only 11 percent of parents and 15 percent of teachers polled said schools did an excellent job of preparing students for work. And just 15 percent of parents rated the schools excellent in preparing handicapped students for postsecondary study.

The federally funded survey was undertaken for the International Center for the Disabled, in cooperation with the National Council on Disability. Copies of the report, "The icd Survey III: A Report Card on Special Education," are available for $15 each by writing the icd's Education and Training Department, 340 East 24th St., New York, N.Y. 10010.

The chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Handicapped is seeking to "undo" a controversial special-education ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, has introduced a bill that would amend the Education of the Handicapped Act to permit parents to sue states for monetary relief for alleged violations of their children's rights under the law.

The bill is a direct response to the Court's ruling last June in Dellmuth v. Muth. (See Education Week, June 21, 1989.) In that case, the Court held, 5 to 4, that the Congress did not explicitly abrogate states' 11th Amendment immunity from federal lawsuits when it passed the special-education law.

Parents have frequently sued states for reimbursement for private-school tuition when state officials have upheld school districts' refusal to agree to such placements.

In a letter to Senate colleagues on the subject, Senator Harkin said: "Providing handicapped children with a right but denying them a meaningful remedy against a state is wrong, plain and simple."

Three national special-education organizations have joined together in an effort to map some of the uncertain ground that lies between public and private schools in serving handicapped students.

The groups--the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National Association of Private Schools for Exceptional Children, and the Council of Administrators of Special Education--have developed a position paper that delineates the roles and responsibilities of the state agency, the school district, and the private school whenever handicapped students are being placed at public expense in private schools.

"There's never really been a public-private dialogue before," said William Schipper, executive director of nasdse. "And I think it was a very soft area of understanding."

Copies of the paper, "A Guide to Fostering Cooperation Between Public and Private Schools in the Provision of Special Education and Related Services," are available through napsec, nasdse, or case, which is a division of the Council for Exceptional Children.

A new national coalition has been formed to promote the integration of handicapped students into regular schools and classrooms.

Known as Schools Are For Everyone, or safe, the group includes parents of handicapped children, advocates for the disabled, and individuals with disabilities from 24 states and the District of Columbia.

"Every student with or without a disability should have the right to attend his or her neighborhood school," said Kay Lambert, who is a member of the group's executive committee and an advocate for handicapped citizens in Texas. "We make a very clear statement that separate schools are never appropriate and our members have to buy into that."

Ms. Lambert said the group would lobby both federal and state governments as well as provide support to parents who may be struggling to get their children into mainstream classrooms.

A new report by the National Center for Education Statistics provides a statistical portrait of the 1.3 million handicapped students who attended colleges and universities during the 1986-87 school year.

In many ways, the researchers found, handicapped students studying at the postsecondary level differ little from their nondisabled classmates. About 63 percent of the handicapped students attended class full time, for example, compared with 61 percent of their nonhandicapped peers.

Likewise, similar percentages of both disabled and nondisabled students lived off campus, and were white or non-Hispanic.

Copies of the report are available for $2.25 each from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The document number is 065-000-00375-9.--dv

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