Power List Snub!

What, no Dirtwoman on this year's list ("The Power List," Cover Story, July 26)? Mr. Corker, now that his rights have been restored, will be a political force to reckon with in Richmond in the future!

Hal Barnes

Readers Sound Off on Father's Experienc3 with Special Education

My thanks go to Ray Schmitt for his excellent article "Facing Facts," which is the most profound thing I have ever heard or read by someone who has "walked the walk" and is now "talking the talk" (Back Page, July 26). I am impressed with his commonsense approach to a very difficult subject and his ability to accept reality.

As sad as it may be, there are some situations in which a child can never live a "normal" life, no matter how many hundreds of thousands — or millions — of dollars are spent! Most parents would do everything possible to provide all the help available to them for their children, but would not expect taxpayers to be forced, through litigation, to continue on an untenable journey such as the one in question.

We all have seen what frivolous lawsuits and trial lawyers have done to every venue of society in our country, with the costs being borne by people who have to struggle to provide their own families with many basic needs.

I, too, feel that litigation is not the way to solve our personal problems. Unfortunately, all of the money in the world cannot change some things, and the lawyers are the only ones who really benefit in most of the litigation cases.

This statement by Mr. Schmitt says it very succinctly: "There are times when practicality, reality and a sense of reasonableness must factor into decisions made by parents, schools and the legal system."

Eula Randall Lucy

I found it very interesting that a parent of a child with special needs would so eagerly lie down and let any school system rub his belly to pacify him.

Many schools wave their hands to divert parents' attention and whisper, "No, please ignore the man behind the curtain; ignore the fact that your child is not making gains, and meeting his/her IEP goals — just accept that substandard, current standards in education are failing your child." It's easier to allow the education system to determine what's best for your child. No pain, no guilt, no change.

Legally every child deserves a free and appropriate education. To accept substandard mediocrity in education for any child, disabled or nondisabled, is the real crime — not the amount of tax dollars it takes to rise to excellence in education for all children. It's not just money, it's a future generation we are talking about here. It's hope in every person leading a fulfilling life.

And isn't it fiscally smarter for our government to spend the money up front in the first 21 years of life, when the brain is more pliable and trainable to focus on effective education, versus supporting and housing untrained, unproductive adults for 50-plus years later?

As the parent of a child with special needs, I understand the sacrifice of giving everything you have in order to help your child achieve in the current education system. I fight to give my child the best opportunities and hope possible for a productive future. There are advocacy groups throughout the state, such as PADDA, designed to help any parent know their rights and help them help their children! It is true in the world of education and IEPs that the squeaky wheel gets fixed. Get information, get involved, squeak louder and demand the best for your children. Only then will change occur!

And, Mr. Schmitt, even a Chevy Cavalier can be upgraded to more than you could ever imagine. Have you never seen MTV's "Pimp My Ride"?

Susan Babiy
Mother of a child with autism

Why don't you publish the fact that there is no "special education" in the United States? It's just a way to take money from taxpayers and put it in the pockets of school administration and the law firms that defend them. What a racket. The biggest bucket of tax money just isn't ever enough, and rarely is there any success in educating the children. Follow the money. It's all a sham, right up to Washington, D.C.

Marcia Gross

It saddens me to think that this father gave up on his child without really doing much about it or seeking out anything that could help.

My own son is 13 years old, born with cerebral palsy, fine and gross motor delay with articulation challenges. Although he was included within education, we saw nothing more than development and social growth.

The school system was unwilling and unable to meet his needs. We fought for years to keep him in his neighboring schools and requested professionals to ensure his level of education. For school to agree to services then not provide and wondering why parents are outraged is ridiculous. Having to play gatekeeper and lawyer to ensure the services offered by the school system is exhausting. Of course the names that you as a parent are called would be considered unprofessional in any other job.

After many years of battles, we decided to home-school. For a boy that public school said would never read, we have him reading simple sentences. It may not sound like much, but it is a beginning that school was unable to offer.

I wish that the world was blind, so no one would see sex, race, color and mental and physical challenges. Imagine all being treated equal.

Cheryl Leatham

Ray Schmitt says that he is not in favor of suing schools because, after all, what is the worth of teaching someone who learns so little. I just do not know where to begin to address this outrageous conclusion.

IEPs are deeply flawed documents because they nearly never describe clearly what techniques they will use to teach the objectives and goals they enumerate. In addition, no staff collects reliability data — that is, they never do systematic checks to see if they are following the plan, which of course, they almost never develop.

There are a long list of procedures that can be used to teach his daughter, and if the school system failed, they failed because they likely wrote a plan with no detailed procedures and no checks to ensure implementation. In other words, they never used research-based best practice, which can be made classroom friendly. Of course, the law only requires "reasonable" effort, a standard no politician would be elected with if they endorsed it for children without disabilities.

I have a child with Asperger's disorder, and I shudder to think what would have happened to him given public school "reasonable" efforts. I wrote his plans, trained his teachers and advocated for him from the time he was rocking in a corner to now, when he has a university merit scholarship and in four years will earn one bachelor's degree in molecular biology, another in chemistry and a third in mathematics. Of course, Mr. Schmitt could argue that my child was not lower-functioning. However, I have also taught people with autism and severe mental retardation to outperform normal coworkers.

Morally, Ray Schmitt has reduced the value of his child to a utilitarian value, not to an intrinsic value. This abysmal standard debases not only his child, but anyone with a disability. The law is the lowest common denominator of morality; it is the standard that does not require what is best, but what is "reasonable," whatever that means. Professional practice and ethics, let alone religious values, demand obedience to a higher way of being. For those not willing to do this, including so-so to abysmal school systems, there is the law, a blunt sword for a blunt effort.

Certainly, school systems do not hesitate to use the law to battle parents who most often lack the financial resources to obtain a measure of second-rate justice. The irony is that in not serving the child with best practice, the schools also fail to serve teachers who must teach children with disabilities.

Sunil Misra
Columbia, Md.

My son is also autistic. He was given up for retarded when he was in kindergarten. Today he is referred to as brilliant by some of his teachers. You gave up on your daughter, Mr. Schmitt. You should be ashamed of yourself. It is clear from your article that you just lacked the will and the drive to help your daughter.

Gregory E. Mock

I have been an educator for over three decades, working with both special education and regular education students, and my heart goes out to Ray Schmitt. I too would rather see school tax money spent on education than litigation — not because children can't learn but because they can.

The problem is that the vast majority of due-process hearings are not frivolous. In fact, due-process hearings and the threat of them have become the primary means of enforcing the special-education laws ("Back to School on Civil Rights," National Council on Disability, www.ncd.gov, Jan. 25, 2000).

It is sad that this man, with a special-needs daughter, has erroneously been led to the conclusion that "sometimes a child is simply unable to learn." If a child can walk and/or talk, then that child has proven that under the right circumstances he or she can learn. Children who can't walk or talk can learn too. Of course, children learn at different levels, at different speeds, and in many different ways, but they can all learn.

Over the years I have come across many teachers who couldn't teach, but I have yet to come across a child who couldn't learn.

Heidi Reichel
Educational consultant
Huntington, N.Y.

Homeless Advocates Should Watch Terms

Regarding local homeless-services agencies that are identifying 50 to 60 "frequent flyers" in the system ("To Cure Homelessness, How About Homes?" Street Talk, July 19): No caring person employs such unprofessional public reference, slang — none. Not people working in social service agencies and not editors. I do appreciate that their terms surfaced in quotes, but I would not have offered them at all.

Harold A. Maio
Former consulting editor
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal
Boston University

Correction and Clarification

The Swords Into Plowshares project mentioned in Home Style's garden column (Aug. 2) took place in 2004, not 1994. Style regrets the error.

Also, Tom Silvestri, publisher of the Times-Dispatch, and Louise Seals, the paper's former managing editor, dispute accounts by unnamed sources in a Street Talk ("Was T-D Exec Forced Out?" Aug. 2) that "human-resource employees escorted Seals" from the Times-Dispatch building July 27. Seals would not elaborate on her interaction with human-resource employees before her unexplained two-day absence from the newsroom, prior to the July 31 announcement that she was retiring.

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