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Article of Interest - Education

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Maximum Convenience or Maximum Courage?
by Tricia and Calvin Luker, Our Children Left Behind, September 1, 2003
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The fall, 2003 IEP season is upon us. How many families have received school notices of IEP dates without being consulted about the date, time or place in advance? How many families have been consulted in advance of the IEP Team meeting about proposed 2003-2004 goals and objectives? How many families have been included in other aspects of IEP Team meeting planning in advance of the meeting date? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] ’97 makes family participation a core principle of the IEP process. How is this core principle playing out in reality? Is IDEA truly about the children, or is it about the schools and their administrative convenience?

The practical reality of IDEA and the IEP development process is that it is school- driven and school-focused, rather than child-driven and child-focused. Active and involved parents can change that balance, but only with significant personal effort and dedicated support from other parents or advocates. Whatever the dreams of IDEA ’97 -- or for that matter a declared goal of current IDEA reauthorization -- to improve parent participation in the IEP process, IDEA ’97 still is administered to the school’s convenience and benefit rather than the families.

Now consider the IDEA reauthorization process. What are the key components? They are reduced meetings, reduced paperwork, increased school discretion to change programming without parent involvement or consent and restricted parent access to independent dispute resolution options. Guess who is driving this process? Is it parents, or is it the schools?

Our Children Left Behind has tried over the past several months to highlight the flaws in the IDEA reauthorization proposals. We’ve tried to alert parents and families to the functional issues of HR 1350 and S 1248, and to suggest parent responses to these proposals. We’ve tried broader educational efforts to help families understand the political process in which these changes are being considered. We’ve suggested strategies parents can use to inform their legislators about their children’s needs and experiences. But we keep coming back to the core question – why is Congress trying to force this IDEA reauthorization on us now?

Make no mistake about it. IDEA reauthorization is being proposed for school administrative convenience. You read the justifications for the harsh proposals contained in HR 1350 and they speak to school issues, not to child issues. There isn’t anything in there intended to help individual students. It is all for the schools. S 1248, while less onerous, still speaks to school issues and needs rather than the needs and issues of individual students.

How many times have we been in situations where someone has pushed an agenda upon us saying that they know better what our children need than we do? Too many. How many times have administrators or politicians pushed programs on families claiming they are for the families’ benefits rather than the benefit of administrative convenience? Too many. When are we going to start holding legislators, policy makers and administrators accountable for their actions – the actions they claim are for our benefit and for our children’s benefit?

The time is now. We either use it – the power of accountability – or we lose it. HR 1350 and S 1248 pay lip service to the idea that it is for the kids. It is not for the kids. It is for the schools. Members of Congress are mouthing the same platitudes, perhaps without realizing how much they are hurting children in the name of helping them.

The present Administration likes to pay homage to the greater principle of accountability in government and in schools. How can Congress gut special education in the name of the 6.5 million students when the true purpose is not to make schools more accountable, but rather to make them less accountable to the needs to those 6.5 million children. What is honest about using students’ needs to justify legislation that cuts student rights and benefits?

We like to think that education is a non-partisan issue – that everyone favors strong educational programs. But we see no evidence that this Administration or this Congress truly is listening to the parents and children whose educational needs are being bandied about like a political football. The administrators have the power and the money, not the children and families. The driving force is administrative convenience rather than individual need. We primary stakeholders – students and parents -- have been cut out of the process.

In the school setting, it takes courage for parents to buck school convenience and to insist on IEP times, dates and places that are convenient to the parents rather than to the schools. It takes courage to question and sometimes reject school IEP proposals that are made in the name of the student, but are in fact for the convenience for the school. It takes courage to sit alone in a room with administrators and say “I will not let you do this to my child.” It takes courage to choose to do the right thing rather than the to do the convenient thing.

Such is the case in Congress. For us as parents it takes courage to contact our legislators and expose our family needs to public scrutiny. It takes courage to tell Congress to stop using our children as pawns to justify programs that will improve school convenience but directly injure our children. It takes courage to tell an elected office holder or a President that we see through their charade and reject their proposals that only will injure our children and families. It takes courage to say “no” when the political thing is to say “yes.” But we know in our hearts that we must have that courage because our children hold us accountable for protecting them and making sure that they get what they need to be safe, secure and whole.

We need Congress to be courageous, as well. We need individual Senators and members of Congress to have the courage of their conviction and commitment to children reject proposals made in the names of children but for the benefit of schools. We need our Congress to reject the idea that individual planning steals from the broader educational setting. We need our Congress to reject the easy political path of going along with this Administration’s IDEA reauthorization proposals, and have the courage to speak up for the primary stakeholders – children and families – who will be irreparably damaged by the proposed changes to IDEA. We need our Congress to have the courage and commitment to speak and vote for us, rather than for the convenience of the schools or the political expedience of partisan politics.

September is zero month in the IDEA reauthorization debate. Have the courage to contact your federal legislators and hold them accountable to you and your child. Don’t let Congress take the easy route and use your children to pass laws that will your children. Tell your federal legislators to have the courage to say “no” to HR 1350 and S 1248. Tell them to the right thing and not the easy thing. After all, isn’t that what we teach our children?

Copyright 2003 by Tricia and Calvin Luker. Permission to forward, copy and post this article is granted so long as it is attributed to the authors and  


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