Parents push for special education change in D.C.
The District of Columbia is looking at three bills that are meant to improve special education in the City, where only 38 percent of special education students graduate on time. Parents and special education advocates are pushing to pass the legislation that they say is necessary to address the crisis in D.C., while some lawmakers and school officials say it will take years to implement the proposals — and will lead to an uptick in frivolous lawsuits against the district.
Among the changes suggested are to cut the timeline for special education evaluations in half in order to better address needs more quickly. Right now the evaluation time line is 120 days, which is longer than any other state in the nation. Another change would be to expand the programs available to children under the age of 3 who need early intervention. This intervention would be designed to help children catch up to their peers by Kindergarten. The cost to city taxpayers to expand these services would run $60 million per year, according to Jesus Aguirre, the State Superintendent of Education.
The proposals getting the most attention center on the dispute portion between parents and schools when it comes to special education services. Right now, parents believe that they bear the burden of proof when it comes to the services needed for their children — to the point that it can lead to excessive financial costs, too. School officials counter that the new bill would push that burden to the other extreme — and make it impossible for schools to avoid lawsuits raised by parents.
The D.C. Education Committee will look over the legislation on July 10 and a vote will be made in the fall. The students are the ones who suffer the most when their special education needs are not met — so hopefully some compromise can be met that benefits students and improves on D.C.’s present dismal special education record.