Special Education

Cracking an “Age-Old Problem”

By Christina A. Samuels — August 18, 2009 1 min read

Before I worked at Education Week, I spent six years as a reporter for The Washington Post, where I covered the Prince William school district in suburban Northern Virginia. I covered everything that happened in that district, not just issues related to special education—in fact, I tried to avoid such stories, because they all seemed so complex and difficult to write about.

So, I felt a pang of recognition when I read this column by my former colleague, Jay Mathews, about a mother who is seeking a specialized placement for her son that her local school district appears unwilling to give:

I admit that education writers in general, and I in particular, write very little about learning disabilities and the many failures of federally mandated public school programs to help students who have them. I often say the cases are so complicated I have difficulty translating them into everyday language, and even then readers struggle to understand. But that is not the whole truth. I also avoid special education stories because they all seem the same, one tale after another of frustrated parents and ill-equipped educators trying but failing to find common ground, calling in lawyers while the children sit in class, bored and confused.

Kelli Castellino’s son Miguel has learning disabilities that have been covered under a “Section 504 plan” rather than under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I’ve written about the differences between the two laws in this blog post. I also wrote a post about how changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act could affect Section 504 students

Mathews doesn’t offer a solution to this situation. Instead, he throws it to readers, and like many of these articles, the comment section is as interesting as the story itself.

I actually see many potential “solutions” to this particular problem, keeping in mind that I don’t know what has already been tried. Perhaps this dispute can be resolved in mediation. Perhaps Miguel can move to another school. Tutoring might make up for some of his academic deficits.

But the questions posed here are bigger than just one student. As Mathews says, “The old way is rutted, bumpy and slow. It is not taking us very far. We need something new.”

If there were one piece of the special education “industry” that you could change, what would you do?

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.