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Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Special education
needs must be met

Bullet The issue: The state does not appear close to meeting a June deadline for compliance with federal laws applying to special needs students.

Bullet Our view: A federal court order may be needed to override state laws and collective bargaining agreements to achieve compliance.

SCHOOLS Superintendent Paul LeMahieu has suggested that collective bargaining agreements and archaic procedures have stood in the way of greater efficiency in Hawaii's schools. A federal court order is being sought to override those very obstacles to improve educational and mental health services for so-called special needs students. That may be the best way, if not the only way, to achieve compliance with an earlier consent decree.

In 1994, the state agreed to comply by June of this year with federal laws providing for mental health, education and other services for disabled children. A class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Jennifer Felix and other children alleged that the state had failed to provide adequate services for children with special needs.

Improvement since then has been painfully slow. The state is supposed to have 32 school complexes in compliance with federal standards by June, but Felix attorneys Eric Seitz and Shelby Anne Floyd say only four complexes have reached that level.

A court-appointed monitor concluded two years ago that the state Department of Education had failed to understand the level of personnel needed or to make "urgent changes" to bring required quality and consistency to the program. Seitz and Floyd say the state continues to fail to provide, train and support teachers, care coordinators, educational aides and speech pathologists for the program.

Such required action may have been obstructed by state personnel and licensing laws, union agreements and procurement laws. Seitz and Floyd are asking federal Judge David Ezra for an order to override those and any other laws blocking progress toward compliance.

LeMahieu says the state's difficulty in complying with federal law "should not distract from the great progress that has been realized and it should not distract from the obligations." State Deputy Health Director Anita Swanson, pleading for more time, says, "There is no quick fix." Despite LeMahieu's stated distaste for cumbersome bureaucracy, those remarks are not surprising in the context of the lawsuit.

The state will not meet the June deadline, to which it consented six years ago, and should be prodded to increase its efforts. The measures requested by the Felix attorneys may be needed to produce the changes required to achieve compliance within the foreseeable future.

Primary contests have
picked the nominees

Bullet The issue: Both the Democrats and Republicans have made their choices clear for the presidential election.

Bullet Our view: Both parties' candidates can be expected to change their tactics to appeal to America's center.

DECISIVE victories by Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have effectively brought the presidential primary election season to a close.

Gore defeated former Sen. Bill Bradley in every Democratic primary at stake yesterday while Bush closed off Arizona Sen. John McCain's opportunities to break through in the Republican race. Having fought off spirited opposition within their own parties, Bush and Gore for the next eight months will focus on their differences.

In both parties, the primary contests have been more competitive than originally expected. Bradley and McCain were initially given little chance against Gore and Bush, but gave the front-runners scares before fading.

After battling for the support of party loyalists, both Gore and Bush now can be expected to tailor their appeal to America's moderate center. That may be more difficult for Bush. In opinion polls, McCain was shown to be stronger than Bush in theoretical match-ups against Gore.

McCain garnered support from independents and Democrats in open primaries in states where there were no Democratic contests. Although branding himself as a "Reagan conservative," McCain departed from the mainstream GOP positions on campaign-finance reform and the tobacco bill, which caused him to be perceived as a moderate.

Bush was supported by the party's sizable religious conservative faction, a factor that may have been strengthened by McCain's attacks on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell before the Virginia primary.

On the Democratic side, Bradley came across as the liberal while Gore was equated with the centrist policies of the Clinton administration. Gore was supported by a majority of every demographic group in the 16 states with Democratic primaries, especially by African Americans, despite Bradley's strong record on civil rights.

Bush's task is made most difficult by the peace and prosperity that have coincided with the Clinton administration, regardless of the degree to which Clinton can take credit for the nation's excellent condition. Americans have been reluctant to switch parties during good times.

The parties' standard bearers are expected to accentuate their differences on such issues as health care, education, campaign reform, the budget surplus, gun control, abortion rights and -- perhaps most significantly following the Clinton scandals -- presidential character.

Both Gore and Bush have emerged from their primary contests toughened by the experience and probably more effective campaigners.

Let the general election campaign begin. It should be quite a battle.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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