yesterday i sat down to do my grad school work and was excited to see i had to read an article titled: Who is eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act? from the Journal of Law & Education (Garda, 2006). after some recent eligibility meetings and other discussions with teachers on how student's qualify for special ed i've had many unanswered questions swimming around in my head. finally, answers!
the thing is, i think about law school a lot. i took one class at the law school while i was in undergrad and i was in heaven. i loved it. i like law. it is like a logic problem. you don't always have to agree with the law to understand how to operate inside it. so i hold onto these little bits of special education law because they give me rules and lines where otherwise i'd be lost. sure i get frustrated that i can't get a child services when he or she obviously has a disability, but i tell myself the supreme court ruled that IDEA only provides a student with a free and appropriate education- being on grade level is considered appropriate, so if a student is on grade level he or she does not qualify for special ed under FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and IDEA.
at least, that's what i thought before.
now i have more questions than i did before, along with a headache, and i'm even more frustrated and lost with the process than i was before.
what i read-
Under the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA) children are eligible for special education if:
1) a student has been diagnosed with a disability.
2) the student's disability adversely affects the student's educational performance
3) this adverse affect creates a need for special education.
IDEA doesn't define what an educational performance is (just academic performance or does it include social situations?), how adverse an affect has to be before being considered significant, and what constitutes a NEED for special education. Meaning, all three of these definitions are left up to the states, and if the states have not decided (most haven't), they are left up to the decision makers in counties or schools. Then, parents or school systems can take it to court where the definition gets made until that court case is overturned. nothing really is defined at all until it makes it to the supreme court.
Which means, we have no answers. it's a big mess of jumping around backwards to see if we land in the right hoops to keep playing the game.
Garda argues that many students, particularly those with emotional disabilities, are not identified for special education services because the school systems define educational performance as relating to only academic grades and test scores. As classroom teachers this is something that frustrates us frequently. We can see a child crying out for help, but told we can only do so much, because the child is on level academically, or just isn't failing as much as he could be.
this is perhaps were i get the most frustrated. when we clearly see a student has something impacting his learning. he's not failing now, but it's early years. it's kindergarten or first grade. we have smaller classes, more teachers, less academics. we're focused on learning to read, but not yet reading to learn. what happens when this little one we've been holding up and pushing through for so long gets into harder grades? with no support? and standardized tests? can't we give a student support before his disability has a significant "adverse affect" on his learning? can't we prevent a student from going backwards? isn't that what we signed on to do? to teach?
Garda also argues that a need for special education should be considered if the student's educational performance is poor or below average. meaning, the student does not have to fail an entire grade to prove he needs services.
so many of the teachers i work with become so disheartened with the sped process. i don't blame them. you see a child in need, do all you can for him, take lots and lots of data but are stopped at the gate for not letting the child fail, or because when he is not failing at the right things.
they're kids, these little people we spend so much time talking about at these meetings. they are children who have potential and a life ahead of them. they don't fit into an easy definition and they don't easily let us know what they need. we get into teaching to help them become good little citizens, to teach them to read, to teach them to advocate for themselves in life. these decisions about eligibility leave so much open to how we'll educate them. somehow it doesn't seem right that to give a kid all we know he needs we first have to pass through the eligibility gate.
i use to think i could rely on the little bits of the law to help myself make sense of the process. when i was told, "oh, he wont qualify" it's because of the way the law is applied in that situation. i can understand that. i may not agree with it, but i get that our hands are tied.
yet after reading this article and learning how open IDEA has left everything, and how even the cases that have made it to the Supreme Court are still misinterpreted by school systems, leaving many children without services, i'm more disheartened than i've ever been by the process.