25 years ago today disabled children around the country celebrated a huge victory. The IDEA, or, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was passed, giving disabled children the right to learn in mainstream classrooms. More than two decades later there are still hurdles to overcome. The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities has been trying to help parents become better advocates for their kids. In a recent meeting, 90.3's Tarice Sims found out what parents and schools need to know to continue the fight for inclusion.
Tarice Sims- At the Shaker Heights Public Library parents and educators are gathering together to talk about their children. What everyone in this meeting shares is the desire to provide a good education for disabled children. The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities hosted the event to let parents know a child's educational rights. At the meeting earlier this month, Gabriele Spangler is a parent advocate for the coalition. She lead the group of parents and teachers in a forum on meeting the special needs of their children in so-called normal schools. She speaks from experience. 13 years ago, Spangler's son was born with cerebral palsy. And in her crusade to improve his verbal skills she found help in the most unlikely of places, her son's school.
Gabriele Spangler- Now he's in, he would be categorized (as) developmentally handicapped but he's well served. He goes in regular classes. I mean my school is very supportive - I live in Newbury in Geauga County. Small school, small campus everybody knows each other I know the superintendent by first name you know it helps.
TS- He's been in a traditional school setting since the first grade. Spangler says she fought to get him out of the disabled handicapped unit because she wanted her son to assimilate into the community. The school was willing to help but in a lot of ways they needed to be told how to do that.
GS- I worked with them, but I had to work and help them see the benefit and now they say what you taught us is unbelievable how we know how to work with this diverse need of children. So it helped the school too - it helps other kids now he's the first one in that building that was included with support in the classroom now it helps everybody.
TS- There are roughly 236,000 children in Ohio that have been identified as special needs by the Ohio Department of Education. In many cases diagnosis are made in the classrooms of public schools. Symptoms start to reveal themselves. Teachers notice a child's mind wandering or a child fidgets everyday in class. Lisa Lorenzi says both of her sons have been diagnosed with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyper activity Disorder. She says her sons are a part of a growing number of kids with ADHD. And she came to the coalition meeting to find out what more she can do to help educate her sons, but she also wants to know what is the school's responsibility.
Lisa Lorenzi- I think more so the schools are not ready for it - they don't know what to do. They know that this exists but not in the proportions that it do, and especially in public schools where you kids are mingling with what we would call normal kids or whatever in the normal setting a lot of times I don't think that teachers are prepared or they don't have a strategy. But you know, still it's the schools responsibility you know in the suburbs we pay taxes and that's what you pay taxes for is to have these teachers prepare for that.
TS- The Ohio Department of Education or ODE says that in order to meet the needs and concerns of parents it has formed a relationship with the Coalition. It helps both sides understand each other's responsibilities and limitations. Some parents expressed concern about the availability of money for things like ramps for disabled children in schools, especially in inner city areas. John Herner is Director of the Office for Exceptional Children at ODE.
John Herner- There are federal funds and state funds so maybe the first thing I need to say is the district does not have the option of saying, gee we're sorry we simply don't have any money and therefore we can't serve your child. In this case being poor is not an excuse it doesn't make the task any easier.
TS- The ODE is expected to spend about $260 million on Special Education for all districts this school year. According to Herner it's twice as expensive to educate a child with a disability than it is to educate an average child. He says of course the distribution of dollars depends heavily on need.
John Herner- The type of disability and more specifically what that particular child's special education needs are because our first instructional needs and then in many cases students also need related services which might be things like speech and language therapy or work with an occupational physical therapist.
TS- This week Ohio Coalition for the Education for Children with Disabilities plans to celebrate it's 25th anniversary by continuing to educate and train parents and educators of disabled children. The next session will be tomorrow in Hudson, Ohio. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 FM.