Embracing the Ambiguity in Special Education Law

by Josette Barsano

Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to risk factors that hinder functional development and thus have a heightened need for special education services.[1] As a special education teacher in a low-income school district, one of the greatest challenges I faced was navigating the gray areas that govern the right of every student to receive, as the law stipulates, the “appropriate” educational and related services that are essential for them to progress academically.[2]  In my experience, the ambiguity surrounding what “appropriate” really means and how it should apply to each unique student was the source of heated debate. After sharing my concern of this opaqueness in the law with my Assistant Principal, she surprisingly advised that instead of bemoaning the lack of concrete definitions and processes, I should embrace the ambiguity. In her wisdom, she explained that there is much opportunity to effectuate meaningful change in the veil of vagueness. In contrast, stringent guidelines can lead to cookie-cutter outcomes that may not always serve the best interests of individual students with special needs. Time and again this approach led me to find consensus in situations where I thought it might not be possible, and it was instrumental in my success in collaborating with parents, teachers and administrators.

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It’s Time to Go Back to the Drawing Board for Public School Funding

by David Brunfeld

When Mark Twain was growing up, the residents living around the Mississippi River created a proposition to discontinue funding for public schools because of how expensive public schools were.[1] An old farmer asserted, in opposition, that “[i]f they stopped building the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”[2]

There is a fair amount of veracity in the old farmer’s words; it should come as no surprise that when education quality suffers, higher incarceration rates follow thereafter.[3] Roughly two thirds of all inmates across the country did not graduate high school.[4] These staggering numbers can largely be attributed to the difficulty in acquiring a job without a high school diploma, and without a job or any source of income, unemployment and incarceration cement a relationship.[5] To prevent this, we must continue to fund our public schools to ensure that youths of all backgrounds receive the best education we can afford to give them. Unfortunately, because of the system by which public schools are funded, this is not the case.[6] In reality, those living in lower income areas suffer with respect to their public schools’ funding.[7]

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