Editor's Note: Dr. Ellenmorris Tiegerman is the founder and executive director of the School for Language and Communication Development in Glen Cove.
When there are economic problems invariably, government attempts to cut social services and programs. One program which has been constantly scrutinized and under attack has been special education. Today, it is harder than ever to classify a child as having a developmental disability. Years ago, children with mild, moderate and severe developmental disabilities had access to special education services.
Today, only children with severe and pervasive developmental disabilities can receive comprehensive special education services Every effort is made to keep children in regular education with their typical peers. There is a complicated evaluation process which takes weeks of professional assessments. These evaluations are then discussed at a formal highly structured committee meeting.
In New York, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) has the mandated responsibility to determine if a child has a severe developmental disability that requires special education services. In addition, if the committee agrees that the child has a disability then it is the CSE's responsibility to identify an appropriate special education program which can provide the therapeutic services the child needs.
Therefore, the primary decision involves whether there is a developmental difference which is significant enough to be referenced as a disability. The committee as a group must agree that the child's language, social and cognitive skills are so limited that he cannot benefit from being in a regular setting with typical peers. The committee consisting of multiple professionals must be in agreement with one another about this determination and only then is there further discussion about placement in an appropriate special education program.
This is not an easy decision to make by any means and there is always a great deal of discussion among professionals about whether the child can be managed in a general setting rather than being removed and placed in a special class.
But the discussion does not stop here.
Since the parent is such an integral part of the decision making process, he must agree with the committee's diagnosis, placement, and recommended services. There is always a healthy tension among parents and professionals during committee meetings and certainly they do not always agree.
This is where things become complicated because if their differences cannot be resolved, a parent is entitled to challenge the committee by requesting an impartial hearing. Sometimes parents do not want to hear and acknowledge that their child has a disability. Other times, parents feel that their child needs either more services or different services from what the committee is recommending.
It is important to keep in mind that this process repeats itself every year. It is never easy for parents to attend CSE meetings and certainly some parents may be overwhelmed by the formality and professional language which they may not understand. You have to give parents credit for a struggle that is going to continue for a lifetime.