Spec.-Ed. Funds Withheld From Va. In Flap Over Expulsions

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The U.S. Education Department is withholding $50.5 million in special-education funds from the state of Virginia because state officials refused to adopt a policy guaranteeing educational services for disabled students who are expelled for disciplinary reasons.

William C. Bosher, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, said federal officials had already approved the state's annual special-education plan when they asked the state to include a provision regarding the expulsion of students with disabilities.

When the state refused, the Education Department began withholding the funds, Mr. Bosher said last week.

"It seems at this point to be a travesty that something emerges after the state plan has been approved,'' he argued.

Department officials refused last week to discuss the case.

Several observers in the special-education field, who said they had no knowledge of the situation in Virginia, said they could not recall another instance in which the Education Department had withheld funds from a state over this issue.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Honig v. Doe that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees disabled students a "free, appropriate public education,'' requires school districts to provide educational services to such students even if they are suspended or expelled.

A Disputed Interpretation

That case concerned a student whose behavior problems stemmed from his disability, but the Education Department has long maintained--over the protests of some state officials--that the same principle applies to cases where the behavior in question is unrelated to a disability.

Indeed, Mr. Bosher maintained that there is no foundation for that policy, a contention several other observers in the special-education community supported.

They noted that the Education Department's position could mean that if a blind or deaf student assaulted another student with a handgun, he could be returned to the same classroom.

"I don't think you can say to a young person, 'You can bring a gun to school if you're disabled,''' Mr. Bosher said.

Mr. Bosher said Virginia is attempting to negotiate a settlement with federal officials.

"At this point, we're continuing to talk in an attempt to ask them to release the money while we discuss the policy,'' he said.

Meanwhile, it is likely that Congress will address the issue of violent disabled students when the I.D.E.A. is reauthorized.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., had planned to offer an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is pending before the House, that would allow schools to suspend students with disabilities during disciplinary proceedings for possession of or assault with a deadly weapon.

Mr. Stearns honored a request by Rep. Major R. Owens, D-N.Y., to deal with the issue under the I.D.E.A., which a subcommittee Mr. Owens chairs will begin work on later this year.

Vol. 13, Issue 24

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