The legislative schizophrenia surrounding public-school education in America is nowhere more apparent than in the case of special education or the education of individuals with disabilities
The United States Congress mandates a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for each individual child in the United States from birth until age 21‚Äîa laudable goal so long as we ignore the inherent differences between and among all the children in a classroom.
From kindergarten through third grade, classroom teachers are responsible for the education of 20 to 30 children from sometime between seven and nine o’clock in the morning until sometime between one and three in the afternoon. Many of those children, if not already identified as “disabled” under IDEA will soon be so identified. The interest and concern of the parents of these children about their education varies from little or none to stifling overcommitment and micromanagement.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every public school system in the United States must provide individualized educational programs (IEP) for each child who may be included within one of 13 specified categories of disability: autism; deaf-blindness; deafness; developmental delay in physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, or adaptive [behavioral] development in children from birth through age 9; the emotional disturbance defined as ‚Äúa condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance: (a) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. (b) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. (c) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. (d) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. (e) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems; hearing impairment; mental retardation; multiple disabilities; orthopedic impairment; other health impairment, ‚Äúlimited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that (a) is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome; and (b) adversely affects a child‚Äôs educational performance; specific learning disability, a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in¬†the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia; speech or language impairment; traumatic brain injury; speech or language impairment; traumatic brain injury; and visual impairment including blindness.
Intended Outcomes of IDEA
In defining the purpose of special education, Congress amended IDEA in 2004 to clarify its intended outcome for each child with a disability: students must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living. Under IDEA 2004, special education and related services should be designed to meet the unique learning needs of eligible children with disabilities, preschool through age 21.
According to IDEA, states must make a free appropriate public education available to “any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even if the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.”
Individualized Education Program
IDEA requires that public schools create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student who is found to be eligible under both the federal and state eligibility/disability standards.
According to IDEA, an IEP must be designed to meet the unique educational needs of that one child in
the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) appropriate to the needs of that child.
IDEA also requires the taxpayers of the school district to provide transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, music therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, including school health services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.
Free Appropriate Public Education
Again demonstrating a total lack of logical consistency, the Congress has defined a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child, designed to meet that child’s unique needs, and from which the child receives educational benefit. All public schools must provide students with an ‚Äú‚Ä¶ education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living‚Äù and assures ‚Äú ‚Ä¶access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children‚Äù in accordance with their IEP.
Least Restrictive Environment
“…to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities including children in public or private institutions or care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” This, of course, means that for the purpose of standardized testing a great many children with disabilities will be included in the testing program upon which their teachers and schools will be evaluated against some mythical national standard.
Discipline of a child with a disability
To further destroy any hope a teacher may have of maintaining classroom discipline, pursuant to IDEA, discipline of a child with a disability must take that disability into account. If it is determined that a student’s behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability, particularly with respect to anti-social behavior, that student may not be suspended or expelled, unless they have brought “weapon to school or a school function; or knowingly possess, use, or sells illegal drugs or controlled substances at school or a school function‚” or causes “serious bodily injury upon another person,” in which case the student may be placed in an interim alternate educational setting (IAES) for up to 45 school days.
The “unfunded mandates”
Congress has placed additional burdens on school districts and their taxpayers. Among the unfunded mandates is the responsibility for identifying all students with disabilities within their districts, regardless of whether they are attending public schools. IDEA requires that infants and toddlers with disabilities receive early intervention services from birth through age 3 according to an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
There are no exceptions to IDEA. No child is so severely disabled as to not qualify for free public educational services under IDEA. IDEA adopts a “zero reject” principle which brings within its protective ambit a wide range of disabled children who require special education and related services because all disabled children are assured the “right to a free appropriate public education” which is comprised of “specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a [disabled] child, including classroom instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions” as well as such “related services” as may be required to assist a [disabled] child to benefit from special education. IDEA provides this guarantee unconditionally. School districts which fail to comply, therefore, cannot assert defenses based on a child‚Äôs lack of conventional academic ability or the high cost of necessary services.
Why not “Special” education for all children?
Isn’t every child entitled to an “individualized education program”? Shouldn’t our gifted and talented students be offered the same level of support as those with “disabilities” determined by the political process and designated by elected officials? If we classify children according to their “disabilities” why is it politically incorrect to classify children according to their abilities? What will happen to be American public school system if “Special” continues to include more and more children? Can the taxpayers responsible for the public education system pay for what amounts to private tutoring for many children because of their disabilities but provide no special services for children of average or better than average ability?