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Disability Is the Other Segregation

In case anyone forgets, private schools operate under a completely different set of rules than their public counterparts.  I was reminded of this again by the almost four-decade anniversary of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990  ("Why do President Obama's children go to a segregated school?" The Hill, Jun. 5).  

Despite laudable efforts to enroll students of different races, religions and national origins, private schools don't reach out to admit qualified students with anything but the most minor disabilities. Critics will hasten to point out that private schools don't have the resources to provide the necessary accomodations.  But I wonder if this is not an excuse.  Private colleges and universities have long admitted students with disabilities.  I vividly remember sitting next to a blind student and his seeing-eye dog when I was at the University of Pennsylvania decades ago.

If private schools truly wanted to include these students, I think they could find the necessary funding through their alumni. Another approach is through state education departments.  Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account program, the only one of its kind in the nation, was declared constitutional by a recent state Supreme Court ruling.  It pays about 90 percent of what the state would allocate to a public school for educating a student with special needs to attend a private school or for services ("Schooling on a 'Debit Card,' " The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 16).  

On the other hand, is their reluctance to do so the fear that students with disabilities will somehow drag down their academic standing by forcing teachers to slow down their instuction?  If this is the case, it's irrational.  Certainly there will be some necessary accomodations in the physical plant and in instruction.  But in return these students can turn out to be valuable assets to the academic program while they are in school and go on to be highly successful graduates that will make the school proud.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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