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TIPS FOR ACCURATE REPORTING ON SPECIAL EDUCATION

 
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Media Contact:  
Cheryl Fries      
cheryl@Texans4SPEDreform.org      
512-657-7880

 
 

 
 

Hey there media. We love you for reporting on special education and we hope you’ll let us know if we can help you with your story. The whole subject can be a bit complicated, so here are a few background tips we thought might be a helpful start.

Special education is a tool, not a stigma.
Disability is a natural part of human existence. It can manifest as physical, sensory, emotional, mental health, social, cognition, health or learning challenges. Special education provides individualized support for a student with disabilities to achieve his or her potential, much in the same way that eyeglasses or contact lenses provide individualized assistance to have clear eyesight, or crutches provide assistance to an individual with a broken leg. Just as you wouldn’t hobble around in a cast or bump nearsighted around the world because you’re ashamed to use crutches or wear glasses, no student should be ashamed to have the tools they need to get an education. 

Special education is a civil right. 
Educating kids with disabilities is not a charitable choice. Because the thing about kids with disabilities is that they can learn. These students are the beneficiaries of a long history of hard-won legal rights under federal and state laws that beat down a history of low expectations and prejudice. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“504”), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provide students with protection from discrimination and with legal frameworks to help prepare them for their futures. 

Special education is not a place. 
The words “special education” are often misrepresented as a classroom setting, as in “students in special education.” This is a misrepresentation. Special education is actually a system of individually specialized instructional methods, curricula, services, 
and supports designed to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities to access the benefits of education provided to their non-disabled peers. In the old days, most if not all students with disabilities who were educated at all received their educations in “special” classrooms. Today, thanks to the law and to extensive research proving its benefits to all students, special education is provided in “the least restrictive environment” in which students can succeed. 

So, instead of reporting that students are “in special education,” it is more accurate to use the phrase “receive special education.” 

Special education is kind of complicated. But it shouldn’t be.
When Congress passed the IDEA, they knew that this concept of individualized education was “outside the box” of the traditional factory model of public education, so they built a series of due process safeguards and explicit procedures into the law. 
When you combine this with other federal and state laws and rules, 
it’s easy to see how important lawyers and advocates are to the process. But when you take it down to its essence – individualized, universally designed instruction – it is actually a model that could (should) be used as the basis for education reform for every student in every school. 

One More Thing. Schools Don’t Cure Disabilities.
One of the ways that Texas schools got away with denying large numbers of qualified students special education for a decade is by claiming that Response to Intervention (RTI) was eliminating the need. It was a kind of nice fantasy to believe that just a little extra help could cure students of the need for individualized supports, curriculum, accommodations, modifications – and legal due process. And it was a very convenient fantasy for budget-strapped school boards and superintendents and special education directors who could tell parents what they wanted to hear instead of what they
need to.

But it just wasn’t true. What is true is that RTI can be one of the tools in the kit for students with disabilities, and while it may help some students catch up, it does not eliminate the dyslexia or the dysgraphia or the ADHD or the vision impairment or the cognitive, emotional, sensory, physical, health or other disability. You can teach a kid English as a second language. You can’t teach a kid not to be disabled. So when they tell you “our interventions keep kids out of special education,” what they’re really saying is – we’re doing everything we can to keep a lid on our obligations. Send money.


 
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We envision a state in which all individuals with disabilities are identified, and receive an education that maximizes their future potential for post-secondary education, employment, community participation, and independent living.

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