Special-Education Policy Changes Sought

Taking what it says is the first such step in the county, the Capistrano Unified school board this week passed a resolution calling for changes in the national Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

"Education of the handicapped had begun with the noblest of intentions but has now literally gone awry and is in need of correction and fixing," said James A. Fleming, superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District.

The act, enacted by Congress in 1990, has four aims, Fleming said: to ensure that all children with disabilities have free access to appropriate education, to help localities provide that education, to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs and to make sure the rights of children and their parents or guardians are protected.

The main problems, he said, are vague wording in the legislation and skyrocketing costs. According to the act, the federal government is supposed to pay 40% of the cost of a child's special education. However, that figure now is estimated at 7% nationally and declining, Fleming said.

Changes proposed in the school board's resolution, passed Monday, would set disciplinary rules for all students, seek public comment on all administrative procedures, facilitate transfers from school to school and encourage mainstreaming of special-education students.

The Capistrano Unified School District now has 2,875 students in special-education programs, or 8.2% of its student population. Those programs cost the district about $13 million a year, about $10 million of which is reimbursed by federal funds, officials said.

The resolution passed at Monday night's meeting will be sent to Congress, which is set to review the act later this year.

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