Why the school funding judgment in Connecticut could jeopardize education for America’s 6.5 million children with disabilities
Parent of a special needs student identifies a hidden landmine
A Couple of years ago I got a call from an occupational therapist who introduced herself as a member of my son Corey’s special education team. Would I mind, she asked, if she took herself off of the roster of people providing him services?
I hadn’t realized Corey had an occupational therapist. But sure enough, when I looked at his Individualized Education Program, the legal document that outlines how his disabilities would be accommodated, there was an entry calling for 15 minutes of support a year. This was a placeholder, the therapist said, a bit of red tape.
So I said sure. Why make more work for the already overburdened?
Fast forward to last spring, when Corey’s new special education case manager called from his new school. She was anxious to get the occupational therapy he clearly needed underway; could I provide the original evaluation she was certain had been done?
A call to the record-keepers at Minneapolis Public Schools revealed that Corey had in fact been deemed in need of OT when his primary disability, Asperger’s Syndrome, was diagnosed four years before. Corey is now 14 years old and in ninth grade. The more I learned about the long list of skills Corey could be taught for managing his sensory challenges, the more my heart broke.
Corey is the original renaissance student, curious about everything and likely to read — and write, and draw — voraciously about whatever’s captured his imagination. But school, with its buzzing florescent lights, scratchy pencils and punishing passing times, wore him to a frazzled nub by lunchtime. I now know we could have addressed it, and didn’t.
I’m telling this story now because buried in a widely applauded court order issued by a Connecticut judge earlier this month is a landmine that’s potentially disastrous not only for that state’s 70,000 students with disabilities, but for all of the 6.5 million American schoolchildren who live with disabilities, including Corey.
Much of the decision was a clarion call for more equitable schools. In declaring Connecticut’s school funding system unconstitutional, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher pronounced universally glowing teacher evaluations “uselessly perfect” and called the state’s poor school rating system “little more than cotton candy in a rainstorm.” But then, wittingly or not, the judge blew a dog whistle. In the name of fiscal rationality, he wrote, schools should not be required to always “make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts” to educate children with the most profound disabilities. A few pages later he dropped the other shoe: The cost of special education threatens to swamp school finances in general.