Federal File

May 30, 2001 1 min read

Homeward Bound?

Special rights for special education students? No, the House said last week, reopening a long-festering dispute about the extent to which schools can legally discipline such students.

School officials would be allowed to discipline students with disabilities in the same manner that they discipline other students, including expelling them, under an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in the House last week on a 246-181 vote.

The controversial provision would give schools the authority without the current requirements to offer alternative instructionto suspend or expel special education students who commit serious infractions, such as those involving drugs, weapons, or aggravated assault.

Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., who sponsored the amendment, said it would create a safer and fairer school environment.

“This will do much to stop the growing backlash against [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act],” Mr. Norwood said. “People resent how much money goes to special education, and that teachers can’t discipline their kids.”

But Lynda Van Kuren, a spokeswoman for the Council for Exceptional Children, an advocacy group for special education students and gifted students, based in Arlington, Va., said her group and others would fight the provision. The Senate has not included a similar measure in its version of the ESEA bill, which is still pending in that chamber.

“We hope the rest of Congress understands the detrimental effects of suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities,” Ms. Van Kuren said.

One of the most contentious issues in the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA was whether, and how, students with disabilities should be suspended or expelled. The House action last week—even though it’s unlikely to prevail in the final version of the ESEA—suggests the matter will re-emerge in the 2002 reauthorization process for the IDEA.

—Lisa Fine

A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week