A Very, Very Special Education

February 21, 2006

Yesterday the SFChronicle had an expose of parents who are seriously gaming the federal Special Education laws of the 1970s which gaurantee a “free and appropriate public education” for anyone with disabilities, from birth to age 22.

The word “appropriate” is an interpretive soft spot big enough to drive a deluxe edition Hummer through. Which is probably what some of these parents are driving.

These parents, who come armed with lawyers, demand that public school districts pay for little Johnny to go to exclusive private schools in the East or swim with the dolphins. They demand that school districts pay for therapy if their child is out of control at home, even if he is perfectly stable during school hours.

They are emboldened and they’re winning. School districts do the math, and see that it is cheaper for them to settle with the parents and pay for you-name-it (airfare, horseback riding, clothing, imacs!) than to go to court to defend themselves.

There’s nothing like entitlement to get my blood boiling.

“I didn’t care if they had special education,” said the boy’s mother, who agreed to discuss the case if the family were not identified. “He needed a small classroom on a small campus. This was a very good situation.”

It sure was, lady. And screw all those other public school kids and the dwindling money being spent on them so your little Lord Fauntleroy can toss lacrosse at a bucolic boarding school.

“He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed,” the mother said. “If my son didn’t get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out of school.”

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing records describe him as a “young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding.”

“He’s a model child,” she said. “However, his frustration and anxiety were so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn’t be doing.”

There are plenty of parents of disabled children fighting the good fight to get a decent education for their kids at schools and districts that lack services. But the parents in this story are different. They’re threatening to sue public schools with highly developed special ed programs so their kids can go to private schools with no special ed program.

The kicker: While his parents plan their litigious manouverings years in advance, Johnny is never required to actually attend the public school in question to see whether or not it is “appropriate.” Go figure.