What do you think of when you hear the terms female genital mutilation, AIDS, worker exploitation, or Muslim women? Chances are you think of human rights issues. What if I added public education to that list? Would you still think of human rights? You should.
Thanks to marketing and propaganda human rights issues are things that we are told we have to worry about in other countries. After all, in the United States we don’t have states attacking each other because of differing religious beliefs. We don’t require the women of the nation to wear burkas. We certainly don’t practice the mutilation of women’s genitals where they cannot enjoy sex. We want rest of the world to look at us as the example of the world and how things should be done. We want rest of the world to look at us and say, “They are so progressive they elected a black president.”
Educational rights of handicapped children are not covered as human rights issues. That is saved for the number of people that die each year around the world due to HIV infection; instead it is covered as an educational issue. In that coverage things like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) are quoted. Budget cutbacks are blamed. No one wants to take responsibility and it is pushed off on someone or something else.
IDEA states that a free and appropriate education is to be provided for all disabled children. This means that accommodations to provide that education are made through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for those children who need it. There is always a large debate between parents and school administrators about what constitutes need. The medical and educational definitions of disabled are two different things. What a doctor says a child needs in the way of accommodations and what the school says the child needs are always different. In fact, I have seen parents get told by the school system that their children don’t quality for those services through the school the child’s doctor deems he needs. It’s because of a discrepancy the size of the Grand Canyon in what medically and educationally means “disabled”.
Assuming that a child gets accepted as educationally disabled, and the parents aren’t told that there is a waiting list or funds aren’t available, there is another problem. It is the wording in the law that states that education is to take place in the least restrictive environment as possible. This has led to mainstreaming disabled children into regular classrooms with teachers that have very little to no special education experience. The results are not good. At best an IEP may get ignored, at worst a handicapped child ends up getting abused by a frustrated teacher.
One can’t forget that IDEA, while classified as a civil rights law, is not written in stone. Schools do not have to follow it. They are instead bribed with federal monies to follow it. All they have to do is show minimum compliance of the law to get those federal funds.
NCLB has become the standard of educational reform and, on the other hand, is a federal law. In theory it’s supposed to be able to share the same sandbox as IDEA but often it doesn’t. In reality it probably shouldn’t. NCLB means nothing for the students other than coloring in ovals with a number two pencil each year. What it means to the schools is accountability and the move toward national educational standards. Often times a disabled student who should never be expected to take the same standardized test as everyone is expected to, without accommodations because what the child needs is not allowed by the testing procedure.
For years there has been argument if the test scores of disabled students should count toward the overall mean score of the school. Teachers and principles often recognize those kids should not have been expected to take the tests but their hands are tied by government bureaucracy with the loss of federal educational funds tied to it.
In the end those who are hurt the most are the children who are already at a disadvantage. They aren’t getting the education that they need to succeed. They are getting shortchanged. Their parents are spending money they should never have to spend on lawyers and educational advocates to force the schools into following the law and into complying with their child’s IEP. The parents are putting time into fighting an ongoing educational battle taking valuable time away from other things they have to do to insure their child has the life skills needed to survive. When it’s all said and done, society suffers because the government, through its schools, is turning out disabled adults without the education and skills to be able to integrate into society. Parents of handicapped children have higher hopes for their children than to grow up to be a greater at Wal-Mart. With the proper education and support system that hope can become a reality. That’s not going to happen until we stop calling the shortcomings of the education system an educational problem and recognize and call it what it is, a human rights violation.