OSEP Chief Announces Decision To Leave Spec. Ed. Office in Fall

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One of the most senior political appointees at the Department of Education is stepping down, after a tumultuous year that put him on the front line of hotly contested special education issues.

Thomas Hehir, the director of the office of special education programs, will leave his post in the fall, the department announced last week.

The zealous but well-respected advocate for the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms has held the position much longer than any of his predecessors. Most of his time at the OSEP was consumed by navigating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act through its reauthorization in Congress and following up with related regulatory changes, a five-year process that ended in March. ("Department Issues IDEA Regulations," March 17, 1999.)

"His six years here at the department have been characterized by a relentless devotion to assuring that children with disabilities receive the same quality of education as their nondisabled peers," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said in last week's written announcement.

'Accessible' Administrator

A Massachusetts native, Mr. Hehir, 49, will return to his home turf to become a lecturer at the Harvard University graduate school of education in January.

"Tom Hehir brings with him a wealth of knowledge about research and wisdom about best practices," Jerome T. Murphy, the dean of the education school, said in a statement last week. "He will make a major contribution to the school not only in preparing principals and superintendents to administer special education policies, but also teachers as they seek to educate all the students in their classes."

Before joining the Education Department in 1993, Mr. Hehir served as an assistant superintendent in the Chicago public schools from 1990 to 1993 and was the director of special education for the Boston schools from 1983 to 1987. He received his doctorate in educational administration and social policy from Harvard in 1990.

His strong support of inclusion and the rights of students with disabilities have often riled administrators and school officials. But many say they have respected his honest and straightforward style.

"We're going to miss him," said Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. "He has been the most accessible--and the least defensive--person in my time in Washington."

Vol. 18, Issue 34, Page 24

Published in Print: May 5, 1999, as OSEP Chief Announces Decision To Leave Spec. Ed. Office in Fall
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