Am I the only one who yearns for the days before drug companies had ads on television? Remember, back when, if your doctor thought you needed a medication, she would prescribe it? Today, you are practically begged to self-diagnose, and only then ask your doctor “if it’s right for you.” Serious psychiatric conditions are reduced to cartoon characters, which is only trumped by the odd discovery that, apparently, the world’s greatest aphrodisiac is a bathtub on a beach.
While I find most of these advertisements irritating, I do rather enjoy listening to the muted, quickly-read list of potential side-effects, especially when the medication being peddled is to treat something relatively minor…as in “we can reduce your toenail fungus by 80%, but it might cost you your liver.”
Okay, so what does any of this have to do with special education law and advocacy?
I’m getting there. I have always faced the “we can’t afford it” argument from school districts when the parents have hired counsel and are trying to resolve their disputes. But lately, it has reached a fevered pitch. Virtually any discussion or meeting with a school these days, or with their counsel, includes the following phrase “with the economy as it is…” When I hear administrators complain about the costs associated with reimbursing parents for disputed services, I can’t help but think that, just like those medication side-effects, the remedy ends up being so much more risky and costly than the original problem. And why?
Because, ultimately, if the school system had just COMPLIED WITH THE LAW TO BEGIN WITH, they wouldn’t be in a position to have to reimburse parents!
In the many years that I have been practicing special education law in Connecticut, I can tell you that in the vast majority of cases, disputes could have been avoided years before the parents brought in a lawyer. And the kicker is that the blueprint for doing so is right there in the IDEA. When parents call me, it’s usually because there is either a crisis, or something close to it. Yet, in probably 8 out of 10 cases, when I read the file, I can point to several points in the student’s education where basic compliance with the IDEA would most likely have resulted in earlier evaluation, and therefore intervention. Instead of doing that, however, the administration has sat back and hoped the “problem” would just go away. When it doesn’t (and it usually doesn’t), the situation has become urgent…and therefore much, much more expensive.
Astoundingly, some school systems have been willing to spend millions…that’s right MILLIONS of dollars in legal fees battling one family, rather than putting that money towards much needed special education services!
So, leaving aside that providing meaningful educational opportunities to children with special education needs is a matter of Civil Rights; leaving aside that it is mandated by IDEA; leaving aside that our priorities as a society surely must include providing necessary skills to our must vulnerable kids; even leaving aside the fact that doing so is the right thing to do…ultimately, compliance with the special education laws is the fiscally sound thing to do.
Next time you are at a cocktail party, and someone complains about the costs associated with special education services, ask them how costly they think a lifetime of government dependence will be.