Advocates for disabled try to stop school bill
By ANDREW MOLLISON
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
WASHINGTON -- Parents and advocates for the disabled are organizing a last-gasp attempt to block a House bill that would give school officials more leeway in deciding how to educate and discipline children with disabilities.
The bill would "greatly diminish accountability and create unnecessary barriers to the provision of a free, appropriate, public education to students with disabilities," says an online petition that had more than 10,000 signatures by Sunday.
The groups plan to use phone calls, e-mail, hand-delivered letters and personal visits on Tuesday to persuade House members to delay or defeat the proposal.
Scheduled for consideration Wednesday or Thursday, the bill would amend and extend the 28-year-old Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for another seven years.
IDEA regulates and partially subsidizes the special education of about 6.3 million k-12 students, one out of every eight in the nation's public and private schools.
"About 40 national groups are participating in our effort to kill this awful bill," said Paul Marchand, a co-chairman of the education task force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.
"Our message is simple: Vote No," Marchand said.
Carol Sadler of Woodstock, whose 9-year-old daughter's disabilities include dyslexia, said the provisions she opposes include one that would let governors cap the fees of parents' attorneys, but not of schools' attorneys, in disputes over special education.
"That's unfair," Sadler said. "This bill is going to take away many of the rights our children currently have under IDEA, and it's not going to do anything to hold schools accountable."
Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), whose subcommittee drafted the bill (H.R. 1350), and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose committee amended and approved it April 10, said their bill would reduce paperwork that is driving teachers out of special education. They said it would also give parents new options, reduce the number of children wrongly identified for special education, discourage lawsuits by parents and align the IDEA with the No Child Left Behind law signed by President Bush last year.
"That is so cynical," Kathleen Boundy, co-director of the Boston-based Center for Law and Education, said Sunday.