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Bill Would Ban Physical Punishment of Disabled Students

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Washington--Educators would be prohibited from physically punishing students with disabilities under a controversial new legislative proposal being considered by federal lawmakers.

Representative Major R. Owens, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education, announced the proposal, which would amend federal special-education law, last week.

"Abuse of children with disabilities is far greater than abuse of children who don't have disabilities," the New York Democrat said. "For many of our children with disabilities, the memory of physical punishment is still vivid."

Mr. Owens's comments came during hearings Feb. 20 and 21 before his subcommittee. The focus of the hearings was a measure to reauthorize the discretionary programs funded under the federal Education of the Handicapped Act.

The programs, which include virtually all of the research, technical-assistance, dissemination, and model-demonstration projects financed under the law, expired last fall but are continuing to operate under an automatic extension.

A more modest bill to reauthorize the special-education programs passed the Senate in November.

The House bill was the result of a compromise between Mr. Owens and Representative Steve Bartlett of Texas, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. (See Education Week, Feb. 7, 1989.)

Mr. Owens is circulating his proposed ban on corporal punishment separately from the compromise bill because Mr. Bartlett opposes the idea.

Also opposing the proposal last week were federal special-education officials and organizations representing special-education administrators and handicapped children.

"It could be harmful; it could be confusing," said Judy Schrag, director of the federal office of special-education programs. "We think states should be working to develop their own comprehensive corporal-punel10lishment laws for all children."

The panel also heard testimony on two other major initiatives contained in the bill--an effort to increase the participation of minorities in programs funded under the law and a program to help students with disabilities make the transition from school to work or further study.

While praising the intent of the minority initiative, several witnesses last week expressed concern about provisions to set aside 1 percent of all the money available under the law for programs in geographic areas with large minority and underserved populations and to earmark other money for historically black colleges and other postsecondary institutions with large numbers of minority students.

"When you have 'set asides,' you're releasing other institutions, such as my own, from a sense of obligation to address those same kinds of issues," said James R. Yates, chairman of the department of special education at the University of Texas.

Similarly cautious criticism centered on the bill's provisions to help students make the transition from high school. Under the proposal, which would establish a new grant program for easing handicapped students' transition to work or further study, the definition of special education would be changed to include such transition services.

Witnesses said they feared that the transition provisions could pose a significant but unclearly defined expansion of special educators' responsibilities under the law.

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