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Special-Education Column

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The U.S. Education Department has delayed sending special-education funds to Puerto Rico this year until the territory steps up plans to improve school services to disabled children.

Federal officials, on a routine monitoring visit to the island last year, turned up more than 100 violations of federal special-education rules. In some cases, said Lawrence Ringer, who oversaw a department hearing on the issue in May, children had waited more than three years to be evaluated for special-education services.

Disabled pupils also were not receiving therapy or other related services called for in their special-education programs. And the island's plan for correcting those problems did not go far enough, federal officials said.

To correct the problem, the department asked Puerto Rico to enter into a compliance agreement, which would force the territory to shape up in three years. Until the agreement is executed, however, the department is delaying Puerto Rico's funds.

Because of the numbers of children not receiving services, said Judy Schrag, the director of the office of special-education programs, "we felt we needed to take aggressive action.''

Nearly one-third of all parents with children who are severely retarded end up placing their children out of the home, a study by a University of California at Riverside researcher reports.

Jan Blacher, a professor of education, tracked 100 such families over a decade. She said 30 percent of the parents, unable to endure the 24-hour demands of raising a severely disabled child, eventually placed their children in an institution or group home or in the care of foster parents.

Most such parents, Ms. Blacher said, maintained ties with their children. Previous studies have suggested that parents lose contact with their children after placement. Ms. Blacher said the change is due in part to changes in federal special-education law, which have resulted in more supports for parents and more opportunities for children to attend local schools.

A national group that advocates on behalf of severely disabled adults and children has asked Amnesty International to review the use of aversive techniques with disabled persons.

Aversive techniques, sometimes used in educational programs, include the use of noxious sprays, quick slaps, or small electrical shocks. The association, known as TASH, has long maintained that such methods are unnecessary, and it petitioned Amnesty International to take action against "continued abuse of people with disabilities.''

The human-rights group said it will address the issue on a case-by-case basis.--D.V.

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