To the Editor:
As one who has spent 30 years serving as a public school director of special education, I enjoyed reading (“Special Education at 30,”Commentary, Nov. 30, 2005.) Although I agree with much of what these four well-qualified professionals wrote, I disagree with their premise that only educators should determine a student’s individualized education program and that doctors and therapists should not have a role in this process.
Yes, doctors and various kinds of therapists have also frustrated me and left me feeling that they impeded the IEP process. But the reality is that for many children, special education is more than simply education. Just as a child who comes to school hungry cannot learn, some children with disabilities need medical intervention and/or some type of therapy before they can begin to learn.
The authors also pose the question, “Is due process still needed?” To that I answer, yes! They speak of “research-based instruction” as being enough to protect children with disabilities, but the simple fact is that not all school systems employ research-based instruction, and some still seem to put the budget before the needs of these children. Let us not forget that Public Law 94-142, the 1975 federal statute that is known in its current form as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the law it was modeled after, Massachusetts Chapter 766, became law only because of intense lobbying by the parents of children with disabilities who were shunted off to decrepit state schools, church basements, and boiler rooms converted into classrooms. (I once worked in an unused, whitewashed coal bin.) These dedicated parents are now grandparents. I doubt that they will let due process fade away.
Everyone should remember that PL 94-142 was a civil rights law, and so is the IDEA. Although they serve to help educate children with disabilities, their intent was and is to protect the civil rights of these children and their parents. Any attempt at reducing this aspect of the law will result in our losing our credibility as professionals.
Special education is still an important part of my role as a superintendent of schools, and it is my biggest budget-buster. The answer to a lot of our woes isn’t reducing parents’ rights, it’s providing adequate funding. In that respect, 30 years after the passage of PL 94-142, Congress has yet to fully step up to the plate.
Ralph E. Hicks
Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District