FIVE YEARS AGO this month U.S. District Court Judge Joseph C. Waddy ruled that handicapped and emotionally disturbed children have a constitutional right to a public education and ordered the District government to offer such children appropriate educational opportunities - within 30 days. That was in 1972. Last week Judge Waddy, for the umpteenth time, learned that city officials still aren't able to comply fully with his order. What was supposed to be the city's final plan for providing education to all handicapped children is little more than "a plan to plan," according to special consultant for the case whom Judge Waddy appointed two years ago. Clearly exasperated, the judge accepted the plan only as a "statement of policy" and gave the city's attorneys two more months to draw up a detailed plan but didn't submit it to Judge Waddy because of a misunderstanding.

The response of District officials to Judge Waddy's order during the past five years - a mixture of inaction and incompetence - is a familiar tale, similalr to the city government's response to two other District Court orders. One concerned an order to eliminate a backlog of hundreds of pending welfare applications in the Department of Human Resources; the other had to do with the government's failure to correct inhumane conditions at the old D.C. Jail (a case that also has been dragging on for five years). In those court cases, as in the case before Judge Waddy, city officials - despite contempt citations - demonstrated an astounding ability to find excuses for not doing what the courts required. This unwillingness to take special steps to meet what is, after all, a court order, reveals to us not only an arrogant disregard for individuals particularly depended upon the government, but a basic city agency responsible for educating handicapped children, and the city's attorneys will at least meet Judge Waddy's latest deadline.