The Governor of Florida and other education reformers seem to have forgotten where Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) started. In this post, I’d like to remind them.
The other night I watched the movie Danny Collins. It’s a loosely based true story about a burned out rock star who learns that years earlier he received a letter of encouragement from John Lennon. This has a profound influence on him. The movie stars Al Pacino and Annette Bening. I thought it was a good movie—and perhaps a nice story for Father’s Day. But one part of the movie disturbed me.
Collins, trying to win favor with his estranged son and daughter-in-law, enrolls their hyperactive daughter, his granddaughter, in an exclusive New York City private school for students with disabilities. While visiting the school, which is beautiful and shows a ballet class in the background, the principal, or headmaster, says to the parents and Pacino’s Danny Collins character, that they do IEPs because they care about the individual. He brags about not doing everything in a “one-size-fits-all” fashion.
With his comments there’s subtle implication that public schools don’t do IEPs, and that students don’t get the attention they deserve in those schools. But IEPs never originated in private schools. They didn’t start in parochial schools either.
Often, private and parochial schools don’t bother to do IEPs because the federal IDEA law does not require it of them. These schools are usually selective. Parents must pay to enroll their students in these schools.
Yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott appeared at a Catholic Morningstar School for students with disabilities, signing a public school bill. Put aside the dramatic implications this has for public education and Separation of Church and State. Here I want to focus on disabilities.
Morningstar Schools are nice schools for students with developmental disabilities. I visited one many years ago. But I have no idea, nor probably do you, how much progress students make. These schools aren’t accountable to the public and taxpayers.
I also don’t notice inclusion which so many parents now demand in traditional public schools. The more recent IDEA re-authorizations require it. A lot of pressure is put on public school teachers to put students with disabilities into inclusion classes. They must provide the same curriculum as students who aren’t identified as having disabilities. They must also show results. Why is this not insisted upon when parents use vouchers?
Seeing Scott in a parochial school venue, signing a public school bill, was surreal. Sending any student with disabilities to a parochial or private school, acting like they are better schools for students with disabilities is deception, just like the private school discussion in the Danny Collins movie. The fact is, these schools prove no accountability to the public.
I’m sure there are probably some elite schools that do special education well, like in the movie, but they did not start the IEP, and poorer children do not get to attend those schools. And, again, no one really knows how well those schools do.
As far as Catholic schools go, the Catholic blog Aleteia sums it up nicely: In the United States, public schools (rather than Catholic schools) have shouldered special education.
They go on to write some history about where IEPs originated, which I paraphrase here.
In 1972, Geraldo Rivera’s presented an exposé of the Willowbrook State School. Children were shown in deplorable conditions. After that there were several Supreme Court decisions including the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children vs. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1972; Goss vs. Lopez, 1974; and Mills vs. Board of Education, 1972).
In 1976, all of this came together for Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Act. This legislation covered children ages 3-21. Later Public Law 94-157 included funding special education for children birth to age 2. In 1992 and 2004, these laws were changed and became IDEA.
I liked that concise explanation. I would like to add that with the advent of Public Law 94-142, public schools made incredible changes to include students with disabilities. These changes were never fully funded, but in most schools, teachers made the sincerest of all attempts to serve all children.
But with ever more funding decreases and added disparagement of special education and teachers, special education services in public schools have become more difficult to get. There appears to be a concerted effort to destroy special education in public schools.
That doesn’t mean private or parochial schools are doing special education well. Who knows how they’re doing? Most elite private schools do not accept students with disabilities, and that was obviously clear in the Danny Collins movie.
And Catholic schools, or other parochial schools, no matter how well meaning, are still not fully equipped, or ready to include students with disabilities in inclusion classes—although some say they are trying.
If public schools no longer do special education well, the way they started out trying to do, it is because of people like Gov. Scott, Jeb Bush, and other school reformers who have gone out of their way to condemn public schools.
Catholic and private schools are not accountable to the public. They aren’t public schools.
We can’t forget that IEPs began in public schools. Public schools opened their arms to everyone, including students with any kind of disability. They never turned anyone away. They charged no enrollment. Let’s see how many voucher schools will do the same. If they’re never held accountable, how will we know they do IEPs and do them well? The answer is, we won’t.