To The Daiily Sun,
Breaking news: Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is finally going to retire. It's time for a celebration. Not because of his 40-year run in the U.S. Senate, but sadly as a result of his less-than-stellar record of sabotaging many pieces of legislation. He and others purposely blocked, watered down, or seriously misrepresented numerous bills. Specifically, Senators Hatch and Pete Domenici (R-NM) and one other did a terrible disservice to all school-aged handicapped children, with the express blessing from the Ronald Reagan White House.
Public Law 94-142 (also known as Education For All Handicapped Children) was passed by the 94th Congress. Here is a synopsis of that law:
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (sometimes referred to using the acronyms EAHCA or EHA, or Public Law (PL) 94-142) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. This act required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate disabled children and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students. The act was an amendment to Part B of the Education of the Handicapped Act enacted in 1966.
The act also required that school districts provide administrative procedures so that parents of disabled children could dispute decisions made about their children’s education. Once the administrative efforts were exhausted, parents were then authorized to seek judicial review of the administration’s decision. Prior to the enactment of EHA, parents could take their disputes straight to the judiciary under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The mandatory system of dispute resolution created by EHA was an effort to alleviate the financial burden created by litigation pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act.
PL 94-142 also contains a provision that disabled students should be placed in the least restrictive environment-one that allows the maximum possible opportunity to interact with non-impaired students. Separate schooling may only occur when the nature or severity of the disability is such that instructional goals cannot be achieved in the regular classroom. Finally, the law contains a due process clause that guarantees an impartial hearing to resolve conflicts between the parents of disabled children to the school system.
One of the primary reasons I have given you this above mentioned information is twofold. This law finally gave explicit, legally-based guidelines for public schools systems across the country to say it was time to educate handicapped children in a public school setting. It also gave public school systems enough time to ensure that they would be certain that properly qualified personal would work with this population. This is how the term Special Education teachers came into our vernacular. These teachers were to be completely qualified (Master's degrees) to work with this population of children.
My particular school district in New York State (including many other public school systems elsewhere in the country) waited until the deadline was looming before it developed a proper curriculum for these children. These uncalled for delays were very detrimental and hurtful to this particular population.
Luckily for parents and students PL 94-142 had legal recourse built in which was a very strong due process right. Parents who realized that their children weren't benefitting from PL 94-142 could then exercise their due process rights which started an extremely crucial timeline to assure that the school district had to resolve all issues by a DATE CERTAIN. Unfortunately school district administrators fought "tooth and nail" against parents who found that their handicapped children weren't getting the proper services or were not benefitting from interventions.
My family had a very negative experience with our school district when we found out that one of our children wasn't getting the appropriate education and other services as written into the IEP a.k.a: Individual Educational Plan (required to be followed by law). Needless to say it was a very long and agonizing journey (too detailed to mention here), but it should be mentioned at this time that it finally resulted in us bringing a lawsuit against the school district. The outcome was a good one — we won! Sadly the condition of winning this suit was that we were muzzled. That's right, the school district would settle only if we said nothing about the beneficial conditions of the settlement! They did not want to be known as setting a precedent for other parents to also follow our lead.
In conjunction with our lawsuit, other parents on Long Island were taking their case (as a class action suit) all the way to the New York State Supreme Court where they won a victory! Sadly, however, school district administrators (including ours) appealed this decision to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Those three justices overturned the New York State Supreme Court ruling, which was a devastating blow and a setback for these families.
Here is how Senator Hatch plays into the equation: he and two other senators worked to water down and do away with PL 94-142. Our attorney (who also represented the parents in the class action lawsuit) was called down to the Reagan White House and told in no uncertain terms to not take any more cases of children with our son's particular disability.
This, folks, is my vivid and quite valid memory of Sen. Orrin Hatch. Not a friend to those families who desperately needed one. He won’t be missed.