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OSERS Left Out Again


Slowly, the Education Department is starting to fill out its top ranks. Just yesterday, it announced the names of nine new education officials, which you can read about here on the Politics K-12 blog.

But there's been nothing but silence, so far, on the appointment of a new assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Right now, the office is headed by Andrew J. Pepin, an executive administrator "delegated the authority to perform the functions of Assistant Secretary for OSERS."

One of the branches of OSERS is the Office of Special Education Programs, which is pretty hot right now, considering all the interest in federal special education stimulus funding and local "maintenance of effort." Right now that department is being led by acting director Patricia J. Guard.

Months ago, I heard Connie Garner, the policy director for disability and special populations for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's office, was a possible OSERS pick. Her body of work proves her familiarity with the issues; in addition to being a parent of a child with a disability, she also did a great deal of work on the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004.

But since then, leaks have been few and far between. The word is now that Garner is busy working on health care reform. Would the department seek to bring back Judy Heumann, a former OSERS assistant secretary now with the District of Columbia's Department on Disability Services? Might the department try to lure Alexa Posny back to Washington? Now the education commissioner in Kansas, Posny served for a time as the director of OSEP, and was known (at least, to me) for her really amusing PowerPoint presentations. Trust me, it's hard to weave humor into presentations on federal special education policy, but she did a good job of it.

Do you have some tips? What kind of person would you like to see in these offices? Feel free to leave a comment.


The Obama/Duncan Education Dream Team has failed so far to appoint folks to USDOE positions of significant decision-making authority who have legitimate, stellar credentials in terms of representing the real interests of the real clients of USDOE, i.e., children, their parents and to a lesser programmatic and financial extent, adults with disabilities. By "real interests" we mean the interests these clients define: not those the paid industry and government gentry express. We have pundits; we have officials from the industry, but when it comes to representing - with clout - this core clientele, the Dream Team simply isn't here. So it's no surprise that when it comes to OSERS, which is allegedly purposed to provide effective and humane programs and supports for folks with disabilities of all ages, it's likely to be Day of Absence time. Again. Clinton redux. Bush redux. Redux redux.

Pervasive abuse of children with disabilities in American schools is, by now, thoroughly documented. It's been going on for years. Ditto for abuse of young and older adults in the voc. training and rehab. fields. Why are we hearing names for the OSERS slot who've tolerated such abuse on their watch? What's missing here - the Administration's will to stop it? We hear that they're not up for bucking the UFT, NEA, Nat'l. School Bds. Ass'n. and assorted members of the profitable education industry establishment on this one. So of course it's hard to find acceptable names for OSERS and OSEP leadership slots. The ones with pleasant reputations haven't done anything highly effective to just end the abuse: the ones acceptable to groups who represent real disability-side clients are anathema to the funded industry's constituency. May we suggest that this is one area where the Obama preference for all things non-confrontational, and for consensus-uber-alles, isn't appropriate? Or moral.

We have a Modest Muckraker Proposal: Step One - Appoint Clarence Sundram, the highly-esteemed expert who helped clean up the Willowbrook stable in NY, and fought tooth and nail to insure that non-institutional placements and programs for the disabled population were non-abusive and humane. His Commission on the Quality of Care's work was stellar - effective and efficient - which is probably why then-NYS Gov. Pataki "cleaned it out," replacing Sundram and CQC's competent professionals with patronage hacks. Many of these hacks were later implicated in an horrific abuse-cover up scandal. Needless to say, USDOE keeps federal funds pouring to and through them. This is the same kind of cover up GAO's recent publications on school abuse highlighted. Teacher sits on young disabled kid. Teacher kills young disabled kid. Teacher's teaching credentials aren't cancelled. Teacher isn't prosecuted. Teacher moves to another state and ... gets the chance to do it all over again. Our American education and voc. rehab. industry, including its supposedly "non-profit" segment, would not be pleased were an effective anti-abuse professional appointed to run OSERS, but ... hey! They're pretty good with the other Obama/Duncan picks so far. Why not let them lose one where it really counts.

If the Obama/Duncan team isn't willing to go to the mat to stop the abuse, which in many documented cases meets all legitimate definitions of "torture," maybe it's time to take off the white gloves and get back to basics. Sit ins. Hunger strikes. Mass arrests. Has ADAPT come up with what will turn out to be the gold standard for what it's going to take - sadly - to get this administration out of the business of funding abuse of the disabled? (Just why were there so many uninvestigated complaints of corporal punishment in the Chicago Public Schools system during Arne Duncan's regime?)

Step Two - Implement Step One and you won't need Step Two. Sometimes life can be remarkably simple.

Dee--Amen to that!

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