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
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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