The Bastardization of IDEA
Long ago and far away, 1975 to be exact, President Ford signed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), the precursor of IDEA. At the signing, the President said it felt it was unlikely to achieve its goals and probably impossible to do so.
Turns out he may have been prescient in his remarks. About 44 years later we still aren’t there. What is even more troubling is that rather than look for better ways to help children, we have become skilled at playing a shell game to make it look like kids are being served when they are not.
There are truly egregious issues, such as Texas that had a rule that only a certain number of children could have disabilities in the state. They were finally caught after many years and are now crying they don’t have the money- or the teachers- to catch up and help children.
But there are many more less blatant efforts to prevent students from receiving services. Most of these lie in the use of artificial rules that are established. For example, many school districts do not offer speech and language services to children in high school. The excuse is that by high school the children have either resolved the speech and language issues or they are too old to be helped. I find that very curious since these same kids needed the service in June at the end of middle school but somehow, after what could only be called an amazing summer, they no longer need these services.
One of the biggest push backs from EHA and IDEA is the addition of occupational therapy as a school service. School systems resisted that right from the git-go. Today the resistance has taken another form. In order to receive OT as a school service, the assistance needs to be needed so that the child can access a free and appropriate pubic education. Again, school districts are saying that once in high school these services are no longer needed. One of the major goals of special education is for the students to be able to live independently and to be prepared for a career or college. Everyone agrees with that objective. Yet when an OT says that a high school student needs OT to be taught to shave himself, or for a girl to manage feminine hygiene issues, suddenly those skills are not related to living independently or being prepared for a job or college? The reasoning for those conclusions escapes me except for one reason totally unrelated to the child’s right to OT. The school districts want to save money.
And the truth is that from day 1, EHA/IDEA has never received the federal funding that was authorized in the original bill. Laws “authorize” Congress to appropriate money to get something done. That is the hitch. That which is authorized most often does not get appropriated- as in put the money in the real budget. So while the authorization looks good, the real money never reaches the real beneficiaries. In this case, children with disabilities are the ones deprived.
In fact, from day one, school districts have put most of their effort into the optics of looking good while obeying the law with the least amount of money. And that is how what looked like a beautiful child has become a bastard.