The Special Education “Reform”

What does The Special Education Reform mean? Let me tell you my experience. . .

In my former life as a New York City school administrator, one of the tasks that I was entrusted with, was to explain to families the meaning of what the New York City Department of Education called the Special Education Reform, which as one of my former bosses would say, has been in place for many years and barely qualifies for “reform” status anymore.  Having said that, it is still a great source of confusion for families and staff alike.  As a matter of fact, even though I had the task of explaining this to families, I could not escape the fact that after so many years, people had started to forget the federal law that protects children with disabilities, their education, and their parental rights, and started to advocate the “reform” as if it replaced IDEA.

In its purest form, the “reform” refers to the policy that ensures that all students can be served in all schools, and at face value, this sounds like a great policy  (right?)  Without getting into specifics, the initial purpose of it was to reduce the likelihood of discrimination and it make equal access a priority.  On the surface, all these things are correct.  The special education reform may work very well, for some.  The problem with an all-encompassing policy that doesn’t consider individual needs is the issue of equity.

In fact, equity is not the same as treating everyone equally.  When students are treated with equity, their individual needs are taken into account. They are treated fairly and impartially. The reform, although well-meaning in theory, confused those entrusted to deal with students, those in a position to make decisions, and in turn, confused many parents.  What many parents worried about has come true.  Students can be placed in any school regardless of their specific needs.  My old boss used to say to me that this was actually a good thing.  She even threatened a group of enrollment directors at a meeting where I was present with taking away all access to special education software for their staff, so that they would not be able to know or assist the parents in any type of special education transaction.  Every student, she said, would be treated “equally.”  She was correct.  They would be treated equally, but they would not be treated with equity.

For those of us that understand disability at a deep personal level, this type of assessment is not acceptable.  Yes, as parents, we should assume that our children have the same rights to attend any school we want.  However, we should also be able to assess for ourselves if we think a school is a good fit for our child given our child’s needs.  We should be able to assess whether we feel comfortable with the services offered to our children.  And yes, we should also have a right to receive the recommended services on our child’s IEP as they are recommended on the IEP.  The IEP is a legal document, not a suggestion.

What do you do if you feel that your child’s rights are not taken seriously?  As upset as you might be, please know that there are legal resources and that the law protects your rights as a parent.  Consult with an advocate and be prepared to be your child’s voice.

Drop me a note if you need assistance.

Best,

Dr. Klimek

Equity promotes inclusion and diversity!

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