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Special Education

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A new center devoted to research by minority scholars about minority students with disabilities will delve into thorny issues such as why some minorities are overrepresented in special education.

Starting Jan. 1, the Center of Minority Researchers will be launched at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and coordinated by three education professors there. The center marks an attempt to build research capacity among minority special education scholars and their institutions.

Although there are more than 100 historically black colleges and universities in the United States, fewer than half offer special education programs, according to center organizers.

Supported by a three-year, $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the project will bring in six scholars working primarily at their home campuses for each year of the grant. The first group includes academics from the University of New Mexico, San Diego State University, and Medgar Evers College, part of the City University of New York.

The researchers will look into issues such as why black students in 1990 made up only 16 percent of the nation's K-12 population but 34 percent of the students labeled mentally retarded. Some researchers have speculated that cultural gaps between teachers and students may contribute to such statistics. The special education teaching force is overwhelmingly white.

"I don't know anybody who's systematically tried to tease out what all is going on," said Daniel P. Hallahan, one of the center's three principal investigators at the University of Virginia. "That's what we're hoping the people supported by this project will start to get a handle on."

A recent change in federal copyright law may mean greater access to audio and Braille books for people with hearing and visual impairments.

President Clinton last month signed into law a provision that permits certain organizations to reproduce audio and Braille versions of a work for people with disabilities without infringing on copyright law. Supporters say it will speed the production of new materials and encourage the application of new technologies in making information accessible.

Before enactment of the amendment, groups that wanted to produce Braille or audio versions had to obtain permission from publishers on a case-by-case basis, which sometimes meant delays or refusals. Nonprofit organizations or government agencies that provide training, education, or adaptive-reading or information-access services to the disabled can use the change.

--LYNN SCHNAIBERGlschnaib@epe.org

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