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Study Examines Services in Separate Facilities for Disabled

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Washington--The disabilities of students served in separate residential schools are no more severe than those of students in separate--but less restrictive--day programs, a new national study has suggested.

The study, the first to look at services in separate public and private facilities for disabled students nationwide, was included in the Education Department's "13th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act." The report, released last week, provides a statistical overview of the status of the nation's special-education systems.

Its findings on separate programs for students with disabilities are based on a 1987-88 survey of 2,000 public and private facilities. Researchers also contacted 487 state4run institutions surveyed in another 1979 study to look at how those institutions may have changed over time.

Advocates for disabled children said the fact that the severity of disabilities is similar across settings points up a lack of appropriate school and community-based programs nationwide.

"This shows that children that could be helped in their own school districts are placed in more restrictive settings simply because we haven't developed alternative placements," said Chris Koyanagi, co-chairman of the National Mental Health-Special Education Coalition, an umbrella group that has lobbied on behalf of that population.

Nationwide, 385,000 pupils are served in separate settings.

Slightly more than half of students in separate facilities have emotional disturbances.

Such children accounted for nearly 63 percent of all children in private residential programs and 29 percent of those in public residential facilities.

Charles Lakin, director of the Institute for Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, which assisted in the study, said the number of emotionally disturbed children in separate programs is far larger than the number of children school districts count in special-education programs.

"That worries me," he said. "I think there has been a growth in out-of-home placements of kids who are emotionally disturbed and I don't think much thought has been given to their educational needs."

The predominance of emotional disturbances in segregated, residenel10ltial settings represents a change from a little more than a decade ago when a smaller study was conducted by the Education Department's office of civil rights.

At that time, the majority of children in separate, residential facilities were mentally retarded. Now, however, such children are served either in separate day programs or in regular public schools.

Among the subgroup of 487 residential institutions studied, for example, the proportion of students with mild mental retardation dropped from 30 percent in 1979 to 14.8 percent in 1988. The proportion of those students in day programs also decreased by half over that period.

Researchers attributed the change to general movements over the past two decades toward deinstitutionalizing children with disabilities and educating them in their neighborhood public schools.

The annual report also found that:

Over all, the number of children being served in school special-education programs in the 1989-90 school year was 4.7 million, an increase of 2.2 percent over the previous year and the largest annual increase since 1980.

The largest proportion of students served in school special-education programs continues to be students with learning disabilities. They account for 49 percent of all students served; and,

The number of 3-to-5-year-olds in special education has increased an average of 8.6 percent a year since 1986--the result of a new federal law requiring states to serve those children by 1996.

The report is available by contacting the Office of Special Education Programs, Mailstop 2651, Switzer Building, Education Department, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202.

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