It’s a sad state of affairs indeed when a dispute arises between students vs. schools, but that’s where we find ourselves. Although special needs children make up about 10% of our population of students, special education is much harder to come by than one would think. Rarely do students in need of special education actually get it — and if they do, it’s usually because their parents fought tooth and nail (make that tooth, nail, and lawsuit) for them to get it — it’s a broken system.
According to a report from California Legislative Analyst’s office, approximately, 1 in 10 students (which adds up to just under 700,000 in the state of California alone) needs special education — which would be fine if the laws did what they were supposed to do: federal law states that children with special needs must be provided a free and appropriate public education — ever since the Individuals with Disabilities Act (or IDEA) was passed. But is that what we see happening in real life? No — since 2010, a staggering 10,000 families have gone to court to fight for their child’s right to education.
There aren’t enough resources allocated towards education in order for each child to get the attention they need and deserve. Federal funding is supposed to cover 40% of special education costs, but in reality only covers a measly 17% — a pittance that doesn’t leave for much wiggle room. Unfortunately, it’s the kids (and their parents) that suffer the costs of this dearth of funding.
While special education students have a wide variety of needs, they tend to get lumped together — autistic children are often placed in classes for emotionally disturbed kids, two groups in need of different kinds of attention and support . It has come to the point where getting ignored is the accepted protocol — parents try again and again to get their child the attention they need, and are refused again and again, until finally the school relents — this little dance even has its own name: “Delay and Deny.” What a phrase to associate with education! The process of Delay-Deny is so widespread that the federal Department of Special Education even issued a memo forbidding it — even so, it’s easier said than done, and parents are still forced to go head-to-head with their schools and school districts. And how long do these battles last? Not weeks (and certainly not days), not months, but years. Valuable years that the child in question will never get back.
And time isn’t the only issue: in Bay Area districts alone, hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on lawsuits. A complete waste of money, especially when you factor in the fact that special education costs a mere fraction of that.
While special education has become much more of an issue than would be optimal (especially since the passing of IDEA), there’s hope: the Concerned Parents Association is filing a lawsuit against the California Department of Education, in the hopes of effecting some permanent change within our education system. Here’s to hoping this will make a difference.