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PRIVATE SCHOOLS have always been an expensive option for the normal child. For many other children, private schools have been an equally expensive and sometimes unattainable substitute for the public schools that could not or would not take them.
Parents of a child with any sort of handicap often have to face what seem to be insurmountable obstacles in getting any kind of education for their child. The child must be tested and diagnosed, and his level of performance ascertained. If he cannot be placed in a regular classroom situation, it must be determined whether he is "suitable" for the special classes given in the public schools. If no public class is found which meets the child's needs, the parents a faced with a difficult choice: either to brave the long waiting lists and phenomenal expenses of a private school or institution, or to give their child no education at all.
The Bartley-Daly Bill--"an act further regulating programs for children requiring special education"--should assure these special children the free education supposedly guaranteed to every child in the past, and at the same time radically change Massachusetts's philosophy of special education.
THE BILL sponsored by David Bartley, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Michael Daly, passed the the Massachusetts legislature last July and will become effective on Sept. 1, 1974.
"Our basic aim in this bill is to see that every child that needs a special education can get it, and that no child who does not need it is forced into a special class," Peggy Maxwell said. Maxwell and Connie Kaufmann, of Bartley's staff, were among the people who did the research for the bill.
One of the changes this bill will bring about is the elimination of the confusing and often counter-productive terminology used to classify handicapped children. The bill replaces the statutory labels (such as "mentally retarded," "deaf," "emotionally disturbed") with a more general designation, "school age children with special needs." This all encompassing category will include children who are mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, neurologically impaired, physically handicapped or who simply require some form of additional help to meet a normal school program.
FOR THE MENTALLY RETARDED especially, this change in terminology means a vast change in philosophy. "Under the old system, retarded children were classified as either trainable or educable according to their IQ's," Kaufmann said. "However, that left a vast body of children who were called either ineducable or untrainable, and for whom nothing was done."
The Coalition for Special Education estimated this summer that about 90,000 children in Massachusetts would benefit from this bill. Of these, only 55,000 are now receiving some form of special education. This means that because of the new classification system of the bill, some 45,000 children will be "drawn out" into special classes.
Part of the philosophy behind the elimination of more specific classification is the idea that there are very very few children who can in no way benefit from education. Defining a whole group of children as those who have "special needs" puts the burden on the school systems to discover what those special needs are and to provide free, public education in accordance with those needs.
Under the old system, classes were set up along clearly delineated lines. In Cambridge, for example, there are several levels of trainable and educable classes for the mentally retarded, classes for the emotionally disturbed, for developmentally immature children and for the physically or perceptually handicapped. The burden is placed on the child to fit into one of the established categories.
THE CRACKS BETWEEN THE CATEGORIES make a nice cop-out for school systems to let the kids fall through," Martha Ziegler, chairman of the Coalition for Special Education, and mother of an autistic son, said. "Now children, especially multiply handicapped children, will no longer have to have a neat label in order to get help," she said.
Another aspect of special education that will change is the perception of the role of the parent, both in choosing a class for his or her own child, and in setting up long range programs. One mother of an autistic girl described her frustration both at the classifications and at her own helplessness before a system that did not provide for a parent's needs or wishes. "They didn't want J----because she was autistic. They only wanted retarded children. I spent seven years fighting their (the school's) suggestions that I institutionalize her."
THE FIRST THING THIS BILL DOES is to make it necessary for the school to inform parents fully on any decisions regarding placement of their children in special classes. Like other provisions of this bill, this is one which may not impress people who have never been involved in trying to get a child in or out of a special class. The right of parents to decide in part what kind of an education their child receives should be obvious to most people. And yet this has not been obviously true in the past.
THERE ARE DOCUMENTED HORROR STORIES about parents trying to get their intelligent-but-deaf children out of classes for the retarded. In other states, researchers have claimed that whole districts were casually placing blacks and Puerto Ricans into classes for the retarded because of their imperfect skills in English. There are many cases on the other side too, where retarded or otherwise handicapped children were kept in a normal class, but demoted yearly.
The injustice of this is evident on the surface. Equally clear is the frustration of a parent who is trying to get an education for a child, but having to play a large institution's ball game. Past injustices can be seen very clearly by the way that the bill spells out step by step the mechanisms schools must now go through in notifying a parent of a placement decision.
When a child in a normal class is referred for evaluation, to determine whether he or she needs special classes, the school must inform the parents within five days. Thirty days later, the school must provide the evaluation. All records must be made available to the parents. The Department of Education may then make recommendations about the child's placement. Parents who disagree with the recommendation have the opportunity to call for a reevaluation by different public evaluation clinics or by specialists.
If the parents are still not satisfied with the response of the school system, the courts will be given the final say regarding the placement of the child.
In the original draft of the law, Zeigler said, the final responsibility for the child's placement lay with the parents, provided that the presence of the child in question did not physically endanger the child's classmates. That plan was rejected as being too "circular," she said. "After a complex series of evaluations and reevaluations and referrals, that would have sent the decision right back to the place where the question originated," she said.
ALTHOUGH THE REGULATIONS for the implementation of the bill as it now stands may leave parents subject to the vagaries of a court uneducated about the issues of special education, there still will be a vast improvement over the present situation. With little or no legal control over placement, any decisions on placement have ultimately been a battle between parents and an individual school system. If the administrators of that school system decided, for whatever reason, that they could not handle the child, or that the child could not be appropriately educated by their school, the parent had to accept the decision. This bill will at least remove the final decision from the hands of the school system that may not want to be bothered with shuffling retarded students.
In the case of a normal child misassigned to a class for the retarded, the results are visibly tragic. For the severely retarded child who is denied the chance to enter a school system, the results can be equally tragic. School often has a normalizing and equalizing influence socially.
A mentally or emotionally handicapped child who is denied this part of normal life is sometimes left with next to nothing. The parents, faced with all-day care for a child who has no playmates and no social contact, often turn to care taking institutions as the only alternative.
Of the 45,000 additional students this bill is expected to provide for, many will come from institutions. They will be educated within the institution, or perhaps with new possibilities for public education, will have a chance to be released.
Under the provisions of the bill, no child will be forced out of an institution. That is, Kaufmann says, a child's physical or medical needs take precedence over education. However, the bill makes the Department of Education responsible for the education of institutionalized children.
ROBERT AUDETTE, chairman of the task force on the role of the institution in the enforcement of the bill, said that he hopes that this move toward education in the institutions will be another step towards getting as many handicapped children out of the institutions as possible. Audette, who is also assistant superintendent of Education, Training and Social Development at the Fernald State School in Waltham, gestured around at the dingy brick buildings of the school: "This is really no place for kids," he said.
He said that in the past society's conceptions of the retarded may have been as a supplementary work force, and he pointed to society's unwillingness to treat them as real people. However, he said that he felt that this attitude was changing fast. "You see F---- over there--he's one of our consumers really--but I'm going to try to get him onto our task force and see what he thinks about education."
Despite Kaufmann's disclaimers, some teachers in normal schools fear that this bill will force the removal of handicapped children from institutions in order to place them in regular schools. "They're going to close the institutions and flood our classes with handicapped kids, and we're overworked already," one teacher at a public school in Somerville said. Parents, too, were afraid at the outset that after they had struggled to get their children admitted to an acceptable custodial situation or provate school, they were going to be forced to withdraw them in favor of a public education.
A clause in the bill will protect the parents' rights to any kind of educational facility--public or private--that they wish, and to any institutionalization that may be required. As for the teachers' fears, the Department of Education's control of schooling within the institutions should preclude the immediate transferral of responsibilities onto the shoulders of the individual school systems.
However, the 45,000 extra children will have to be coped with in some way. And this could mean a strain on the school systems. The bill does provide money for the education of all these students. Approximately $10 million are provided for special education. The additional money will come from the state's general fund, which means that even if the education budget is cut, it will not be. The additional money, and some new provisions for the allocation of this money, should help ease some of the old educational oversights which were, no doubt, caused by a shortage of funds. And for those teachers who are nervous about encountering handicapped children for the first time, the Massachusetts Teachers' Association is planning on conducting seminars on dealing with special children.
THIS IS A COMPLEX BILL It was based on a Pennsylvania court ruling of 1971 guaranteeing education to all children. It seems that everyone had a hand in writing the Bartley-Daly bill, which may account for its complexity. At least 20 parents' groups--such as the Association for the Retarded Children, the Association for the Deaf, and the Association for the Brain-Injured Children--all were instrumental in pointing out particular problems that handicapped children faced, and making sure that their solutions were included.
Whether or not this bill revolutionized special education in Massachusetts largely depends on the implementation guidelines that are being set up now, in preparation for the bill's taking effect in 1974. Much also depends on educating public attitudes. Ending statutory labeling--which many parents hope will end or reduce stigmatization--will do nothing if teachers and school systems and especially other children are not made aware of the differences between handicapped people and themselves. Or, as Audette says, people must be allowed to realize that handicapped children are just "really people in slow motion."
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