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Mainstreaming Plan Is Debated

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New York City officials are awaiting word from a State Supreme Court judge who has been asked to referee once again in a continuing battle over the mainstreaming of mildly and moderately handicapped special-education students in the district.

The dispute stems from a school-board decision in December 1986 to decentralize the governance of programs for the city's 113,400 special-education students. (See Education Week, Jan. 14, 1987.)

School administrators and lawyers for a coalition of teaching and child-advocacy groups were unable to reach an agreement by Sept. 15 on the funding necessary for placing 16,000 handicapped students in regular classroom settings.

Supreme Court Judge Beatrice Shainswit may choose either to hold a hearing or to rule on the funding issue on the basis of papers filed by both sides in the dispute.

Allocation Said Inadequate

The coalition contends that the school board's $4-million allocation for the program is inadequate, falling far short of the $15 million recommended by a committee appointed by the school board. Last year, the district spent $4 million to mainstream 8,500 students.

Robert H. Terte, spokesman for the board of education, said the $15-million recommendation was "an optimum" suggested by the committee; Schools Chancellor Richard Green and the school board believe the $4-million allocation is adequate, he said.

The lower allocation, he explained, reflects the board's decision not to hire substitute teachers who would have freed classroom teachers to confer with special-education colleagues about the handicapped pupils.

But Randi Weingarten, a lawyer for the United Federation of Teachers, one of the coalition members, said officials were cutting financial corners by increasing the number of handicapped students in each classroom.

She said district officials previously had agreed that no regular teacher would have more than six handicapped students over all, or more than three handicapped students in any one class.

"The question is whether the students are being mainstreamed in an appropriate way," said Ms. Weingarten. "Our contention is no."

Continuing Conflict

In its decentralization plan, the board assigned control over special-education services to each of the city's 32 community school districts; the previous system had organized services through a central division.

The United Federation of Teachers and several child-advocacy groups formed a coalition that filed a lawsuit seeking to block the decentralization effort. They claimed that the reorganization would lead to additional patronage and fragment the district's special-education programs.

In May 1987, Judge Shainswit declined to block the decentralization. The coalition and school board later worked out an agreement that allowed for the decentralization and mainstreaming.

But in August, the coalition asked the judge to reopen the lawsuit, contending that the school district was not fulfilling the agreement.--nm

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