Wednesday, February 17, 1999

Parents of special-ed
kids have bigger role
in proposed rules

By Mary Adamski


The roles of parents as well as public school teachers and officials in providing education for disabled students are laid out in proposed new rules before the Board of Education.

"We've tried to infuse the spirit of parent involvement and not overly focus on technical compliance," said Gail ImObersteg, executive director of Special Education Law Associates, consultant to the task force that has worked since 1997 to retool current rules.

"We went beyond the federal requirements" in providing for parental inclusion, she told members of the board's Committee on Special Programs yesterday. ImObersteg said the proposed rules set up a process of conciliation and mediation to deal with disagreements.

"We want to head it off before it becomes personal," she said.

Committee members questioned her and task force Chairwoman Linda Tam of the Department of Education special education section about the proposed rules, which will be out for public hearing later this year.

"It would be a big step for the DOE to trust in the parent's ability," said Lonia Burroughs, task force member whose 12-year-old son is a special education student. "We want to change the spirit, the feeling, the intent of the rules. We talked about a goal of an equal partnership relationship ... and the mistrust level could go down."

Burroughs expressed the frustration of some parents in the bureaucratic process they undergo before each disabled child gets placed in an individual education program.

Some 20,200 children among the 188,000 in public schools have special education needs, said Kenneth Omura, director of student support services.

About 4,100 of the children require mental health services as well as special education. These are the students covered by a 1994 consent decree in which federal Judge David Ezra found the state in violation of federal law for failing to offer the services needed by mentally and emotionally disabled youngsters. The state has a June 30, 2000, deadline to comply.

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