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PIN Releases Special Education News
February 19, 2001

The Parents Involved Network of Pennsylvania (PIN) indicates that on February 14 the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Education Committee voted 12-12 to approve/disapprove the new Pennsylvania Special Education Regulations (Chapter 14). Because there was a tie, they will make no comment to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC). The information below, provided by PIN, reports on the status of the proposed regulations.

Next Steps

The PA Senate Education Committee will now review the regulations, followed by the IRRC.

Main Issues

The new special education regulations eliminate many protections for students with disabilities, while making the regulations difficult for non-attorneys to read or use. Particularly, class size limit restrictions have been removed and advocates may no longer represent families at Due Process Hearings.

What You Can Do

Make sure your state senator, the senators on the PA Senate Education Committee, and the IRRC know your concerns regarding changes to Chapter 14, which regulates how special education occurs in Pennsylvania. (A more extension discussion of the changes can be found at the Pennsylvania Education Law Center (www.elc-pa.org) from the link titled Updated Analysis Proposed Chapter 14 Regulations.

Comments Regarding the PA House Education Committee Hearing

Class Size

In a startling admission under vigorous questioning by members of the PA House Education Committee yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Pennsylvania State Board of Education (SBE) representatives agreed that the outcome of the eliminating class size limits for Special Education classrooms could be class size based only on case load size. Since case loads for Special Education can be as high as 50 students, this could result in Special Education classes of 50 special education students, Dr. Fran Warkomski, Director, Bureau of Special Education; Molly Phillips (guidance counselor) chair of the State Board Committee on Special Education; and Dr. Peter Garland, Executive Director of SBE, reluctantly conceded. They were quick to point out that the Individualized Eduation Plan (IEP) process should prevent this, as it can be stipulated in the IEP what the maximum class size should be for each student. Parents and advocates will be responsible for holding schools to responsible class sizes for their individual child, without any regulations to designate what that number will be. They did not identify a formula families could use to determine what class size their child requires.

It appears families are on their own, with their recourse being a Due Process Hearing if they are not satisfied with the planning of the IEP as it relates to class size. The regulations also prohibit advocates now representing parents at such hearings, however, and PIn has indicated that parents would now be forced to represent themselves or pay for an attorney to represent them.

House representatives pointed out to Garland, Phillips and Warkomski that this will put an unreasonable burden on parents who are already too frequently fighting schools for special education resources. They also pointed out that families would be responsible for understanding the importance of getting class size into IEP's, and that schools may not be forthcoming that this is possible to write in for each child.

Advocates at Due Process Hearings

Ms. Warkomski reported under further questioning that of the 200 Due Process Hearings she identified as held last year, 104 hearings involved lawyers for families, and i1 hearings included family advocates. She stated the Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher will not approve the Chapter 14 Regulations unless they prevent advocates from representing families at Due Process Hearings. His reasoning for such restrictions is that he believes advocates are practicing law without a license. Advocates would still be permitted to accompany parents and speak directly with the parent, they just could not speak for them. Several representatives expressed dismay that these regulations are actually creating more hardships on parents who are already overwhelmed by demands of IEP's and the daily struggle. Several House representatives committed to proposing legislation to allow advocates to represent families at any phase of the process.

Last Words

The current Pennsylvania regulations were put in place with the dedication and determination of families of children with disabilities. If parents and friends of children with disabilities want these protections to stay in place, they will need to work just as hard as the originators did to mantain them.

This information has been provided by the Parents Involved Network of Pennsylvania.

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