I guess I was due for a rant.
First, I get a vile comment on the blog that likened Asperger’s Disorder to a fad, and further blamed a number of disabilities on poor parenting. Thankfully, you, my loyal readers, jumped on board and shamed this yahoo with your reasoned replies. I have yet to learn more about what motivated the comment, nor even what led him or her to be reading my blog. Let’s just say, it seems to me that this person has issues.
Still, it is always heartbreaking to hear statements that realize your worst fears about what some people think about individuals with disabilities.
Next, I read a letter from a board attorney on a case of mine, documenting the school district’s “concern” that my client, who is placed in a private special education school at public expense, is “not being given the opportunity to interact with peers.” Translation: the school district is laying the groundwork to try to stop paying for the private school.
Granted, I was already doing a slow burn over the comment on my blog, but this statement just hits a nerve with me.
The reference made by the school’s lawyer was to the LRE provision of the IDEA, which mandates that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities should be educated “with children who are not disabled.” IEP teams are required to regularly document and justify any removal of students with special needs from the regular education environment.
Inclusion of kids with disabilities in the “mainstream” is one of the main goals of the IDEA, and in fact is at the core of its historical underpinnings.
However, for some students at some points in their life, the IDEA contemplates that a more restrictive environment might be required, as in the case of my client, who is in what is called a “self-contained” program. This means that all of the students who attend this school have disabilities, and in this case, severe developmental disabilities. Self-contained programs can exist within the public schools as well, although this one happens to be a private program.
Which gets me back to the comment by opposing counsel, that the school would like to see the child “interact with peers.” What was meant was “non-disabled peers,” but that is not what was said. What was said was “the opportunity to interact with peers.” The child DOES interact with peers; it’s just that he interacts with peers who happen to also have disabilities. You don’t have to be a Freudian to see the subtext in this omission.
Since when do schoolmates with IEPs not count? Students with disabilities ARE peers!
The more I stewed over this, the more I came to realize how connected the two comments were: the nasty (and ignorant) response on my blog, and this reply from someone who should know better. At the core, they betray what I believe is one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the disability rights movement, which is a basic absence of concern for people who have special needs by most people who have no personal experience with it.
Years ago, I came to the realization that there are two types of people when it comes to special education rights: those who understand what “there but for the Grace of God go I” means, and those who don’t.
Recently, I was speaking to a group of law students about special education law. One of the students started to ask why we, as a society, should be spending “all of this money” on kids with disabilities and especially special education litigation, when “many more” students might go without. I responded that, as far as I am concerned, free football versus a child learning to speak was no contest. Being a smart law student, he countered with examples of much more important things than football, like books. Fair point. So, I explained how most of the cases that become very expensive do so because the school district failed to follow the law to begin with, and then proceeded to give about a half a dozen examples of cases I’ve litigated which could have been resolved initially for a fraction of what it ultimately cost the school system.
What I didn’t say is that I’ve had this exact debate for many years with a number of friends from high school, college, law school, and beyond.
Several of whose children I now represent.
There but for the Grace of God…