Options in Special Education
Editor: "Least Restrictive Environment," discussed in recent letters, is neither a "buzz-word," as Irene Spencer put it, nor an option which might be refused as "not always the best for our children," as the Kozlowskis might wish. The "Least Restrictive Environment" is the law. Each child eligible for special-education services must receive those services in the least restrictive environment appropriate to the particular needs of that child.
As a legal standard, Least Restrictive Environment may seem maddeningly ambiguous. But only such a standard can assure the flexibility required to implement education plans which are genuinely tailored to meet the individual needs and abilities of each and every special education student.
The concept assumes a wide range of options available to students with disabilities, beginning with aids and supports provided within a child's regular home school classroom.
Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which has been in effect for 14 years, does not mandate "mainstreaming," but full inclusion of children with disabilities into the mainstream of regular academic life is certainly a positive option under the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) language.
Segregated schools started disappearing everywhere in this country over a decade ago, in places as diverse as Colorado, Ohio, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, even Louisiana. Placing children with disabilities into existing programs, rather than designing programs for each individual child, has long been a discredited educational approach in even mildly progressive school districts.
First steps toward positive change are coming in Maryland. These are cautious steps certain not to disrupt placements that are working to the satisfaction of folks like the Kozlowskis, but they will allow for all those children who can benefit to be included in regular-school classes.
I have two sons enrolled at their home school in Baltimore County. My seven-year-old, who happens to have Down syndrome, is prospering in the regular first-grade classroom of an extremely competent teaching professional who is supported her work by special educators, therapists and caring administration. His big brother is in the same building; his neighborhood playmates are in a classroom across the hall; one of his classmates was on his soccer team this fall, another goes to his church.
That is what community life is, a network of social and working relationships that sustain and support -- and define -- us. The fact that a child has a disability cannot disqualify him or her from the human right to community life.
Irene Spencer expresses concern that children with disabilities won't be properly prepared by regular classroom education for vocations later in life. The need for employment is critical, to be sure, but who is likelier to hire our children when they grow up? The very special professionals at the segregated school, or the neighbors and buddies in my son's class who are learning as first-hand witnesses the challenges, courage, limitations, abilities and character of my little boy and others like him?
Landmark legislation encompassing all aspects of citizenship was enacted this summer in the Americans with Disabilities Act. In signing this bill, President Bush declared, "Let the shameful walls of exclusion come tumbling down." The earlier in life that edict takes hold, the more impact it will eventually have. To that end, the Maryland walls of educational exclusion are coming down, slowly, but surely.
Editor: I have just finished reading Dan Fesperman's article, "Funds, favors often linked in Congress." Needless to say, I continue to be outraged that such unethical thinking prevails among our "esteemed" members of Congress.
That Sen. Alan Cranston can say "it is absurd to suggest that the fund raising and substantive issues are separated in Senate offices by some kind of wall" indicates his total lack of ethical perspective. And as he paints that same scenario for at least the committee members he was addressing, one wonders if anyone in Congress has any ethics.
They seem to see nothing improper with asking for and accepting large donations from constituents and non-constituents alike and then acting favorably on requests by those same donors -- usually to the detriment of taxpayers in general. Witness the savings and loan mess as one glaring example. Apparently, public trust means nothing as they do not even make an attempt at propriety. With Congress it's always sleazy business as usual.
I suggest that "den of iniquity" -- or is it "inequity" -- which we call Congress clean up its act. Maybe then we citizens can address congresspersons as "honorable." For now, I cannot even think of doing so.
Raymond J. Colombo.
Don't Tax Him