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Jay Boulter: All children have right to appropriate education

Jay Boulter

By Jay Boulter

Special to the Salisbury Post

I learned over four decades ago that when someone begins their comment with “I have always had a soft spot in my heart,” or “Some of my best friends are,” to wait for the “but.”  Mr. Gordon Correll’s recent essay in the Post (“My Turn: Schools can’t do it all on their own,” Feb. 23) did not disappoint.

I preceded Mr. Correll into public education, and specifically special education, by a decade. My first classroom in 1972 was in a church basement. Prior to the passage of P. L. 94-142 in 1975, a federal law that guaranteed a free appropriate public education to each child with a disability, most children with severe disabilities were either excluded from public education, provided education in totally separate facilities, or sent to the classroom down in the basement next to the boiler room.

Many who advocated, lobbied and organized others to pursue equal civil rights for citizens with handicaps brought our zeal and organizational skills from the civil rights movements for racial equality that led to the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

My hero Robert Kennedy advocated for citizens discriminated and marginalized because of race or poverty. I was personally motivated by his widow, Ethel Kennedy, and her efforts on behalf of children and adults with severe intellectual disabilities.

The notion that equal education for all our children: black and white, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Moslem, male and female, with and without disabilities in the same facilities will ruin everyone’s educational experience and contradicts the public will was heard loud and clear 50 years ago.  ��

It is chilling to again read or hear public comments by “educators” and politicians that, “public education today is in serious trouble… the main reason… is that public education, under its present form, is required to be all things to all people.” Yes, , the public schools are required by public law to provide education to all students regardless of race (Title VII of the 1964 CRA), gender (Title IX of the ED Amendments of 1972), and disabilities or handicaps (P.L. 94-142 and its reincarnations, IDEA 2004 and the American with Disabilities Act, Sec. 504 of 1973).

The purposes of the IDEA are: “to assure that all children with one or more of the fourteen specific disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs; to assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected and to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities”.    

Educators who fail to heed or attempt to circumvent the public laws protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities and their parents face the possibility of audits and legal action by the USDE Office of Civil Rights.

I believe that the parents of children both with and without disabilities are willing to support and pay the price to educate all of our children. However, in my personal experience and that of many parents I work and advocate for, the school system could be more vigorous and encouraging of parents and classroom staff to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities. Not always, but more often than before, I have encountered staff attempting to dissuade parents from seeking even assessment of possible disabilities for their children. From more than one special educator and in more than one school, I have heard parents told, “Are you sure you want to label your child EC? Because it will mean they will not get a job or go to college.”

I invite parents who have had these experiences or similar ones, where they were told their child was not eligible for Exceptional Children (EC) services without even an assessment, told their child is not eligible without being given specific steps they may take to appeal the decision, or not provided information regarding  the array of EC programs and services, to share their stories with the Post and the school board.

In fairness, I invite parents of children with special needs to share their positive experiences in accessing and utilizing special education services.

Jay L. Boulter is a licensed marriage family therapist and licensed professional counselor in private practice in Salisbury, North Carolina.

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