It’s time for STEP Two! As you know, every month in 2011, we’ll post a STEP to FIX special education. There are 12 steps. By December, our systemic transformation should be well underway! Please share your comments and let us know the steps you are taking to fix special education.
February 2011—Step Two to bring about climate change in our schools
Eliminate the fear of litigation that grips our schools.
Philip K. Howard’s book, Life without Lawyers, opens with these haunting words:
Sometimes I wonder how it came to this, a teacher in Wyoming told me, “where teachers no longer have authority to run the classroom and parents are afraid to go on field trips for fear of being sued.” Thomas Jefferson might have the same question. How did the land of freedom become a legal minefield? Americans tiptoe through law all day long, avoiding any acts that might offend someone or erupt into a legal claim. Legal fears constantly divert us from doing what we think is right.”
Special education heightens this fear of litigation through its adversarial system. According to Thomas Hehir and Sue Gamm, fear of litigation and the resulting settlement agreements define the relationship between schools and parents. “The threat of a hearing is an essential element in the relationship between districts and parents because it raises the stakes in disputes over placement.”
This fear has many real-world negative consequences, including these. Schools and parents work from the premise of lack of trust—that they are NOT on the same page to educate students. Teachers leave the profession and often cite these reasons: burdensome paperwork and the negative, adversarial climate in our schools.
How to fix it? As I see it, people of good will created this system in an era when litigation may have been a necessary change agent. Now, people of good will can change the system. In this era, we need to focus on student achievement and learning, teaching methods, appropriate responses in classrooms, etc.—all issues that educators, not lawyers and judges should create, manage and control.
But how? It may be a long learning curve. It took us 35 years to get to this dysfunction. I hope we can crawl out of it faster, as our country cannot afford another 35 years of adversary and litigation in our classrooms. Let us
- Help parents be parents, not law enforcers (More on this in Step Five).
- Free teachers to teach—not collect data and fear disputes endlessly–in the six-hour day they have.
- Encourage teachers to advocate FOR students.
- Focus on student achievement for all.
- Create trust-based education, based on the premise that parents and schools ARE on the same page, working together in good faith to promote better education for all students. For an example of a trust-based approach, please visit Special Education Day’s website to request information about Procedures Lite. This voluntary approach allows parents and schools to work together for the child, waiving procedural requirements. www.specialeducationday.com.
Creative open-minded problem solvers—we need you now!
These steps are taken from Fixing Special Education—12 Steps to Transform a Broken System. The book is available at School Law Pro: http://schoollawpro.com/fixing-order.doc and at
Stay tuned for March’s STEP!