Tuesday, November 15, 2005

In Special-Ed Case, Court Backs Montgomery Schools

Thank goodness for this Supreme Court decision. I'm sympathetic to the plight of special-ed students and their parents, but there has to be some measure of sanity in the system. Basically, the ruling states that if parents have a beef with the school over their child's IEP, it is up to the parent to prove why the IEP is inadequate. In other words, if you have a problem, then you have to be a part of the solution. The parents can still take the school to court, but have to do their research first. Hopefully this will cut down on lawsuits (our new national pastime), and allow schools to more fairly distribute their funds among all their students. Currently amazing amounts of money ($312 million a year in Montgomery Co., VA), are spent on special ed services. Both schools I taught at had a full-time certified special ed teacher who did nothing but IEPS, ARDs, meet with parents and teachers, hold hearings, and the like. She taught no classes. By the way, when you see a school's student-to-teacher ratio, know that teachers like that are factored into the equation, even though they never teach a child.


Moi ;) said...

Very few parents end up in due process. And the majority of school districts are not big enough to hire their own special ed teacher just to do IEPs. The percentages on lawsuits with regard to special ed are small - unless you're in a really rich district where parents can afford to sue. I think our district has been sued 3 times, ever.

Most of us parents (including us teachers) have to fight to get services for our kids. Schools don't want to spend the money, and now they don't have to. They can make up whatever they want to appease the properties of "FAPE". Ha.

Whether this case was deserving of winning or not is beside the point. The way the opinion was written, it has effectively killed IDEA as well as NCLB. NCLB I don't mind so much. Talk about a financial drain...

But I do hope that none of your children ever need services, because now the schools can do what they want. They don't have to listen to you. You might find that "fairly distribute" redefines itself.

Jill said...

Heather, God forbid you or anyone you know has to wrangle with a district over special ed services. I do not have any children on IEPs, but I have been on the board of a parent networking group for my public school district (Orange Schools in Pepper Pike, Ohio) and our group specifically supports parents of kids with spec ed needs, gifted needs or both. Please, do not misinterpret what parents seek from districts until you've familiarized yourself with some of the battles these families must wage and the steps through which some districts go in order to deny wht you and I might believe to be otherwise reasonable expectations for children who are in fact required by federal law to be given a free and appropriate public school education.

Please, tell me that you have been through the gauntle and/or know others who have and the districts you're familiar with have excellent track records in fulfilling special ed needs.

Otherwise, please, talk to parents of special needs kids. Ask them what the process is like, year after year.

If school districts were providing what they should be to meet spec ed needs, we wouldn't even need a federal law. Obviously, it's long been the case that that law has been necessary.

Thank you and best wishes in raising your kids.

Heather said...

Actually, I am quite familiar with how nighmarish the process can be, from my experience as teacher and as someone with a close family member who needs services. Remember this ruling doesn't actually change things for most states - the burden of proof was already on the parents.

I guess my main point is that as expensive as everything is already, I would hate to see money wasted on frivolous lawsuits. I have dealt with parents who wanted outrageous, unnecessary modifications for their kids. I knew a parent who wanted an adult to follow her 12 year old son around all day to his classes to make sure he stayed on task, write down his homework assignments, etc.

If my own children end up needing special ed services I will probably end up homeschooling them. Most special ed teachers I know are wonderful - they desperately do want to help their students. But even if they only have 10 kids and an aide in their classroom, those 10 kids have very different disabilities and skill levels. No teacher is magician enough to handle that effectively.

So although homeschooling is not really what I want to do, I will make that sacrifice if necessary so my child can get the one-on-one attention that most special ed kids need. I wouldn't feel right asking the taxpayers to pick up the tab for a private tutor. I would feel frustrated and angry at times at the card life has dealt me and my child, but hey, we all have problems, n'est-ce pas?!

I would challenge anyone who wants an inside look at the system to sign up to be a substitute teacher. Make sure you say you are willing to sub in special ed classes.

Jill said...

Heather - I appreciate your response. It's well-reasoned and rational. I would still respectfully disagree with your approach - it's not the one I would take, I believe. But, like you, I'm not in that position where I need to make the choice between keeping a spec needs child in school or homeschooling.

You know, in my district, inclusion and differentiated teaching is all the rage. I'm not always a big supporter of it - I have a profoundly gifted son and inclusion and differentiated classrooms have had detriments at times for his learning. However, the school has been very responsive to his needs overall while still meeting the needs of the other students.

Although teachers can't be magicians, it's my understanding - I could be wrong - but it's my understanding that programs through which teachers must pass before becoming teachers do provide coursework in differentiation (man, that's hard to type over and over!). So I think that while it's not a Hogwarts kind of class, there does seem to be an expectation coming along in teacher education that teachers have training in handling multiple intelligences and abilities in one class.

Thanks again for responding. Good, important conversation.

Heather said...

Thank you for your comments. I certainly don't want to appear to oversimplify what is a complicated and difficult issue.

I taught for four years at a school were inclusion was used extensively, and I have to agree with you - it does hold back the "gifted" students sometimes. Plus, the special ed kids are no dummies. They know that they are the "slow" ones in the class. So I have mixed feelings about inclusion (I unofficially taught some myself - although I have no special ed certification). I can see benefits and disadvantages.

As far as differentiation and multiple intelligences go, you are right. It is definitely required learning, both in college and in teacher inservices. I found much of it helpful, but mostly in a regular ed classroom. Even then, it is still a real challenge to meet everyone's needs all the time. But in my opinion, most special ed students need so much one-on-one attention that it is just too much for the teacher. While Mrs. Smith helps Johnny who reads at a 1st grade level (in 5th), what does Jimmy with dyslexia do? A worksheet. After ten minutes she rushes over to keep Susie on task with her reading activity. But Johnny needs a lot more than just an interrupted 10 minutes here and there. In a large school, special ed classes can be formed so that students with similar problems and skill levels are grouped together, but that can't happen as well in a smaller school.

Jill said...

I guess no system is perfect and you can't please all the people all the time, goodness knows how often even a small or statistically significant number are happy.

Thanks again. :)