Educational Editorial: Special Education

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Recently the Virginia Department of Education, provoked by the Federal government, cited area school divisions for "disciplining too many minority special education students."

The Department noted "a significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity." What about special education and discipline? While there is not a child for whom I would not want to provide services, one area of education is completely unbridled and without boundaries.

English, history, math, and science are not federal civil rights....but special education is. In the 90's Virginia lead a fight to determine how special education students should be disciplined.

The issue was expulsion. In Virginia this means cessation of services -- you have lost the right to go to school.

But not in special education. Due process was a "causal" hearing. If a student's behavior was related to his handicapping condition, you would look for alternatives and intervention.

But if the student's behavior was not related to his handicap, then the same punishment would be applied as for any other student. The Fed objected to Virginia's application and the issue went to federal court. The state won in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Fed was left with three options: comply, appeal to the Supreme Court, or change the law -- and change the law they did.

It is an option that most of us do not have when we lose. Clearly young people with special needs require academic accommodations, but if we also accommodate their behavior, despite race or ethnicity, we have destined them to a life of pain for both themselves and those who love them.

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