A representative of the U.S. Office of Education attempted to walk through long and complicated federal regulations governing education of the handicapped last week with an audience of Virginia school board members and school superintendents.
The explanation of the federal regulations, given by Dr. Thomas Irvin of the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, outlined the intent and specifics of the law, but did little to ease the burden of implementing it in Virginia school districts, according to several school superintendents at the seminar.
The seminar was one of 10 meetings on education topics held Friday during the third day of the joint annual conference of the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Association of School Administrators.
Fairfax County School Supt. S. John Davis and former Fairfax School Board member Mary Anne Lecos presided over the first joint general session of the conference, which began Wednesday and closed Saturday at the Reston International Center.
Davis and Lecoas are the outgoing presidents fo the Virginia Association of School Administrators and the Virginia Association of School Boards, respectively. About 300 people attended the conference.
Dr. Irvin told superintendents and school board members at his lecture that school officials in doubt about the federal law providing for education of the handicapped "should challenge the law."
"Clearly there are aspects of the law that could end up in the process hearings," Dr. Irvin said. "If these are things in the law you don't understand, then challenge the law."
The Aid to Education of the Handicapped law, signed by former president Ford in November, 1975, requires that each state provide "a free and appropriate education to all handicapped children between ages 3 and 18" by September, 1978.
The biggest problem school jurisdictions have faced in complying with the law is paying for the education of handicapped students in cases where the public school system does not have facilities to provide the education itself, and in providing an individualized educational program for each handicapped student. The program has to be developed in consultation with the parents of the student.
Applying for aid under the law and tracking how that aid is used also presents problems for small Virginia school districts without much clerical staff.
Supt. Davis said that Fairfax County, which has about 14,000 handicapped students, spends as much as $6,000 to educate one handicapped child, and in some cases as much as $60,000 when the child is boarded at a special facility.
"It (the law) is another example of federal and state mandated programs that do not include sufficient funding to implement those programs," Davis said.
"Fairfax, however, is not in bad shape," he said. "We developed programs for the handicapped five years ago, so it is no great burden to comply with the law now."