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 Article of Interest - IDEA

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Parents Tired of Playing Hide-N-Seek During IDEA Reauthorization
July 1, 2003, Our Children Left Behind
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Last Wednesday, when the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (The HELP Committee) moved a meeting, previously scheduled for 10 a.m. to "mark-up" the bill that proposes to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to another room at an "unspecified time," parents across the country who have students with disabilities felt something fishy was going on in Washington, D.C.

"Their keeping parents from having optimal access to the dialogue that took place for the mark-up of S.1248 on June 25th resembled the same ole game of Hide-N-Seek that parents have been forced into playing by our legislators since March," says Susan Ross, a Florida parent of a son with disabilities. "When we saw on C-SPAN that the Senate Medicare conversations were going on at the same time that the mark-up was to take place, we knew that our kids and families were in big trouble," she lamented.

Calvin and Tricia Luker, Michigan education advocates and the parents of a daughter who benefited from special education services, agree with Ross' observations and concerns. "This President, House, and Senate are masters at using the press to obscure the visibility of the IDEA reauthorization. It seems that they want to keep conversations about this important issue, that affects 6.6 million students with disabilities, away from the public eye."

The Lukers further explained, "Here are some examples to show you why parents are feeling this way. First, the House released H.R.1350, their disastrous bill for IDEA reauthorization, on the same day that the President declared war on Iraq. Then, during the same week that the Senate released S.1248, the President was busy wooing school officials in front of the press for a No Child Left Behind love fest. And on June 25, when the Senate was talking about Medicare, the futures of 6.6 million kids took the back seat in the Senate's time schedule and press coverage. We're tired of it, both physically and emotionally!"

"It is getting way too predictable," reports Mike Savory, a parent, busy activist and an advocate who lives in Virginia and is keenly aware of national issues affecting citizens with disabilities. "We keep watching in horror as the IDEA is being gutted, per the request of school administrators' organizations and other education lobbies," he exclaims. "If IDEA doesn't improve, many students with disabilities will not only be left behind, they will be left out of access to school altogether."

Savory explains, "Students with disabilities will lose over 30 years of ground that has been to their benefit if both the House and Senate bills do not significantly improve. With meetings being held behind closed doors and shifted to times and locations where fewer people can witness the proceedings, there is no other conclusion that we can make than to believe that both the House and Senate members fully realize that our students are going to be hurt if their IDEA reauthorization bills pass. They don't want us taking notes and listing names. Election time is coming up. If it was good IDEA news, they'd want everyone to see and know about it, wouldn't they?"

"We still don't know when the full Senate will look at IDEA," complained Debi Lewis, a West Virginia parent and advocate. "If the past is any indication, we will either find out 15 minutes before the full Senate meets; on the same day that another, more 'important', lobby has an issue before Congress; or immediately following the spectacular capture of a most wanted terrorist. The Senate is intentionally obfuscating, and they are manipulating the press to do so. We deserve better. Congress needs to understand that not only do we vote, but when issues touch the hearts of our families -- we also freely open our wallets and actively campaign!"

Parents are hearing that the House and Senate hope to have a final bill for the President to sign by the fall of 2003. Ross is concerned. "My son has had a great school experience, thanks to the provisions found in the present IDEA legislation that was rolled out in 1997. As an optimist, I just hope that we can all wake up from this current reauthorization nightmare and see a better day for our students. Showing parents and students with disabilities that they, too, are priority constituents, would go a long way in renewing faith in this legislative process."

Ross finds the conflicting messages between the President's education vision and those emerging through the H.R.1350 and S.1248 confusing. Ross explained, "When President Bush introduced the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, his highly publicized public education agenda, parent involvement was a cornerstone for its success in reforming public schools. It seems like common sense. So, why do we have to fight so hard with the House and Senate for our parent voices to be heard and an IDEA legislation that would further promote parent involvement? Students with disabilities truly need parent representation the most."

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