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Is IDEA Being Implemented as Congress Intended?”
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Committee on Government Reform
February 28, 2001
by Lilliam Rangel-Diaz
God blessed me with the opportunity to attend the Congressional Hearing on IDEA with a 24-hour notice!
I encourage every child advocate and every parent to contact Congressman Burton’s office with recommendations to improve IDEA implementation and enforcement. The record will remain open until March 15, 2001.
Congressman Burton’s Personal Experiences
Congressman Burton is deeply committed to this cause, as he has been personally touched by a child with disability, his grandson, Christian, who has autism.
He related the struggles of his daughter in obtaining educational services for his grandson. He has attended IEPs with his daughter and was shocked to find the recalcitrant system that we have all grown so accustomed too. He stated that if this happens to a child who has a Congressman for a grandfather, he could not even begin to imagine what is happening to other families and other children. His experience with the special education system is what motivated him to investigate the implementation and enforcement of IDEA.
Hon. Dan Burton, Chairman
The following are my personal impressions and observations of the Congressional Hearing and my own opinions:
Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana, Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, opened the hearing, which was titled, “Special Education: Is IDEA Being Implemented as Congress Intended?”
What follows are excerpts of his opening statement:
“Why do families have to go to court to receive services?"
“ . . . Why is it that, when we have federal law that requires that every child receive a free and appropriate public education, many families are having to go to court to receive these services?”The “Federal Role in Education: To Serve the Children not the System”
He quoted President Bush, “The federal role in education is not to serve the system. It is to serve the children,” and stated that he was in 100% agreement with that statement. He stated:Marca Bristo, Chairperson of the National Council on Disability, beautifully delivered the major findings and major recommendations of NCD’s Back to School on Civil Rights Report regarding the poor implementation of IDEA and the lack of enforcement actions.
Back to School on Civil Rights was entered into the Congressional Record.
How to Improve Implementation of IDEA? OSEP Has No Recommendations
Patricia Guard, Acting Director, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, testified. Congressman Burton interrupted her testimony reminding her that what she was stating was what IDEA law says and that Congress is fully aware of what IDEA says, that what they want to know is why is not being implemented and what needs to be done to improve it.
He asked her for specific recommendations from OSEP, but OSEP was unable to provide any, aside from increase in funding. Ms. Guard indicated that she had to get back to the Committee with specific recommendations.
It’s hard for me to resist offering my editorials, so I’m not going to resist the temptation . . . for OSEP not to have recommendations to improve IDEA implementation and enforcement is so tragic that is almost comical!
For me, the highlight was . . .
For me, the absolute highlight of the hearing was the testimony of Melinda (Maloney) Baird, Esq. From Knoxville, Tennessee, now in private practice previously involved with the Weatherly Law Firm, followed by the testimony from Mr. Gary Mayerson, Esq. from New York, a parent attorney.
I wish I had a video camera so that we could all relive the moment together . . . I will do my best to describe what I observed . . .
Excerpts from Testimony of Melinda (Maloney) Baird, Esq., school board attorney
The following are excerpts from Ms. Baird’s testimony:
I am an attorney in private practice in Knoxville, Tennessee, and have been working in the field of special education law for almost sixteen years. My practice is devoted exclusively to the representation of school districts in special education matters. I formerly served as an attorney in the Office of Special Education Programs for the Tennessee Department of Education and as Associate Publisher for Education and Disability Publications for LRP Publications.Excerpts from Testimony of Gary Mayerson, Esq., parent attorney
The hero of the day, Mr. Gary Mayerson from New York (who by the way was borne and raised in Miami, Florida), provided the accurate information regarding the state of affairs regarding special education litigation. He stated:
Unfortunately, while there apparently are enough lawyers and law firms prepared to work on a steady retainer basis for school districts (or the insurance companies which insure school districts), there are relatively few lawyers in the country who are ready, willing and able to represent children . . .“Private” Conferences for School Board Attorneys Funded by Taxpayers?
Mr. Mayerson included as Appendices to his written testimony, a seminar brochure entitled “Special Education and The Law" a private briefing designed for school board members, central office administrators, special education directors, etc.” Page 2 of the Program agenda announced a session titled “Special Education for Early Childhood Autistic Students – How to Avoid Parent Demands for Lovaas/Teach Methodologies,” and another session titled, “How to Avoid Liability in Lovaas Cases.”
Mr. Mayerson also attached a copy of “workshop” brochure from our esteemed LRP Publications entiled “Building a Blueprint from Defensible Autism Programs,” with Melinda (Maloney) Baird as the workshop’s presenter. He also testified to Ms. Baird’s presentation in Tennessee back in November 2000, titled “The New Reauthorization – Back into Hell?”
We are all too familiar with these workshops and “private” conferences at taxpayers’ expense.
Congressman Burton and Congresswoman Maloney from New York did not find Ms. Baird’s “catchy” titles amusing at all. As one observed Congressman Burton’s increase in facial color, becoming redder by the second, Ms. Baird was asked several questions regarding Mr. Mayerson’s appendices and testimony.
Among the questions asked of Ms. Baird, was an explanation of how could she put on “private” conferences with taxpayer dollars designed to teach school people how to break the law and get away with it.
OK, we can all relish the moment now . . . SMILE, SMILE, SMILE . . .
Of course, this refers to the infamous “National Institute on Legal Issues of Educating Individuals with Disabilities” by LRP, which caters to school boards and school board attorneys who attend these conferences at taxpayers expense to learn how to win against parents in court.
Congresswoman Maloney from New York literally yelled at Ms. Baird, stating that this practice could not be legal and that she would get this under the Sunshine Law.
Ms. Baird was not a happy camper.
OSEP Staff Comfort School Board Attorney
At the end of the hearing, it was observed that Ms. Baird found refuge and comfort among her friends from OSEP, Ms. Patty Guard, Ms. Joleta Reynolds and Ms. Ruth Ryder, who were all there.
Whose interest is OSEP protecting? Do we have any doubts left?
How could anyone in their right mind expect that OSEP would ever enforce IDEA, much less sanction state education agencies that allow its local school districts to violate the law?
“The Cat Is Out of the Bag”
For the first time I feel confident that IDEA is getting the attention it deserves (THE CAT IS OUT OF THE BAG).
“Thank God for Little Boys Like Christian”
Thank God for little boys and little girls like Christian, Congressman Burton’s grandson, who through the miracles of their existence, raise the level of awareness of those who are in a position to make a difference. What would the rest of us do without them?
I encourage all parents and advocates for children with disabilities to make recommendations to improve IDEA.
Please Make Your Voice Heard
It is scary to hear the recommendations that I heard at the hearing from school people and from uninformed legislators. The school people complain bitterly about the burden of paperwork and about the discipline of children with disabilities.
What they really mean is that paperwork makes them somewhat accountable and they just don’t like that. They also stated that they miss the days when the parents “trust” them.
Accountability & Measurable Student Outcomes
We need to demand accountability, not necessarily through “paperwork” (I’m not interested in killing trees), but through technology (instead of paper and pencil tasks) and through measurable student outcomes.
Please feel free to contact me for additional information.
Center for Education
IDEA Compliance Links at Wrightslaw:
Summary of Findings & News Release by National Council on Disability.
Table of Contents, IDEA Compliance Report ("Back to School on Civil Rights")
Recommendations from IDEA Compliance Report ("Back to School on Civil Rights")
Search Tips -- Find Information in IDEA Compliance Report
Keynote Speech by Lilliam Rangel Diaz, 3rd Annual Conference of Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Houston, TX
NOTE: The 4th Annual Conference of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates is at the Hyatt Crystal City, Washington DC, March 8-11, 2001. For more information, please visit the COPAA site.