Monday, April 20, 2009

Great Arguments for School Choice for Learning Disabled Kids in Kentucky

The Bluegrass Institute has an emphasis on the particularly pressing needs for parents of students with learning disabilities to have greater school choice options. Our reports, Enable the Disabled, and The Most Left Behind of All stress some of the issues and problems that confront these parents when their children are trapped in public schools.

Now, a recent 2009 report from the National Disabilities Rights Network adds still more examples of how these special kids sometimes face horrible conditions in Kentucky’s one-size-must-fit-all-students public schools.

In a series of atrocious examples from around the country, three Kentucky cases are singled out.

In the first case, the report says on page 19 that,

“A nine year old with autism was placed in a closet with a small window on seventy-eight occasions when he did not comply with the teacher’s directions.”

Imagine that, a kid with autism confined seventy-eight times! There’s a great learning experience for you!

Then, on page 23 the report cites two more examples under a section about students who are tied up, pinned down or battered.

“A six year old boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder was forced to sit in a partitioned area of his classroom. When behavior issues erupted in the classroom three school personnel, all males, came into the classroom and physically dragged the child out of the school and into a van. He was taken to his therapist’s office so that she could see how ‘bad’ he was.”


“A nine year old boy diagnosed with a separation anxiety disorder was subjected to restraint daily over a two week period.”

Both of these boys needed a different approach that they were not getting in the public school system.

Sadly, the National Disabilities Rights Network report does not call for school choice, but when their evidence in this brand new report is added to that collected as early as 2001 in the Kentucky audits mentioned in The Most Left Behind of All, it is clear that these sorts of problems have an excessively long history in our public school system. Moreover, nearly a decade of just reporting about the problem and the teacher training conducted to date have not caused the necessary changes to occur.

Continuing to trap disabled kids in a hostile environment for so long a period just isn’t acceptable. It's clearly past the time to look at other options like school choice scholarships for these kids and their parents. There are options like this elsewhere in places like Florida, so why is Kentucky being left behind?


Richard Day said...


You wrote,

"Both of these boys needed a different approach that they were not getting in the public school system."

I'm quite sure you are correct. The described incidents are indefensible. But one should be careful not to confuse learning disabled children with other types of disabled students whose behavior may pose a serious safety concern for other children. That changes things considerably.

What approach do you advocate for students whose behavior threatens the safety of others?

Are you advocating a separate system for learning disabled children?
...all special needs students?
...without nondisabled peers?

Perhaps we could look to the private schools for examples of superior work with dangerous children, if they existed. But with rare exceptions the only private schools that will accept students with serious behavior problems are specialized schools for disabled students only. At least one of them uses electrical shock "treatment."

Private school parents I've known chose private schools mostly to control with whom their child attended school. Problems could be made to go away.

Historically private schools were specifically created to leave undesirable children behind - however one defines undesirable.

Also, federal regulations prohibit any kind of "one-size-must-fit-all" solutions for special needs children. If you really know of such examples, I would encourage you to report the school to the proper authorities. Of course, if it's just rhetoric...


Richard Innes said...

Richard Day raises some good points and seems to agree that at least some sorts of choice options might work better than the existing situation. But, some of his comments indicate he probably has not read “Enable the Disabled” or “The Most Left Behind of All” reports mentioned in the main Blog item.

For example, Richard closes his comment by saying,

“Also, federal regulations prohibit any kind of "one-size-must-fit-all" solutions for special needs children. If you really know of such examples, I would encourage you to report the school to the proper authorities. Of course, if it's just rhetoric....”

Actually, we have lots more than rhetoric behind our concerns. Reporting has already been tried, many times, and isn’t working. “The Most Left Behind of All” report (link is in the main Blog item) provides a good example.

“The Most Left Behind of All” discusses two audits of the Covington, Kentucky school system’s programs for the learning disabled. Many of the specific problems found the first time in 2001 by the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (in a report triggered by parental complaints) were again present in 2006 when the Kentucky Department of Education did their investigation. Authorities looked, but little, if anything, changed.

Furthermore, the history of parents of learning disabled students notifying the authorities, including going to court, shows that the process is inefficient and impractical. Court cases take years to adjudicate – often the child involved is fully grown before a decision is rendered. Sometimes, the child dies before relief is granted (yes, I know of a Kentucky case).

The situation regarding official response, or lack thereof, is well known – parents now tell the Bluegrass Institute that when they contact aid organizations, they often are actively dissuaded from filing complaints. The reasons are that local school authorities often retaliate against the child and it takes years before any relief is obtained.

So, it is time to try something different.

Look into the reports of parent satisfaction with the McKay Scholarships in Florida, for example. I’d start with a similar program in Kentucky.

Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount – this time from a group not even located in the state – that Kentucky’s special kids are not being properly handled in school. We need to do something different, and increasing choice options, as they did in Florida, looks like a good first step.