The D.C. board of education has refused to put into effect the recommendations of a subcommittee that was formed to propose methods of straightening out the system's troubled special education programs.
Those programs are in such a tangle now that the school system is being sued by a group of parents who allege, among other things, that their children have to wait sometimes as long as a year to be placed in special education programs, and that the school system frequently misdiagnoses the learning problems their children suffer from.
Instead of taking immediate action on the recommendations, the board referred them to a new committee on special education, which will continue the work done by the subcommittee.
Board President R. Calvin Lockridge said the board's failure to accept the recommendations -- the result of four months of efforts to resolve the problems with special education -- was merely "a procedural matter."
He said the new committee on special education, which he formed when he became president, will have the authority to perform the tasks which the old subcommittee recommended. For example, the subcommittee proposed that a committee be set up to review each month the time it takes to diagnose and place students in special education, and the reasons why some students are found ineligible for special education.
Lockridge acknowledged, however, that the internal politics of the board was largely responsible for the failure of the subcommittee recommendations.
He said if the recommendations had not been referred to the new committee, they were likely to fail when they came before the full board anyway because of the difference that some board members have with the subcommittee's chairman, Alaire Rieffel. Rieffel has sided with the parents who are suing the school system.
In an emotional speech to the board, Reiffel called their action Wednesday night "an insult" to the subcommittee and to the parents and community activists who brought their concerns and suggestions about special education before it.
"If we kick (these recommendations) back to a committee, we're only playing games," Rieffel said.
She said that she and Lockridge were the only two members of the board who ever attended the subcommittee meetings regularly or actively worked on drawing up the recommendations.
Other board insiders placed part of the blame for the failure of the subcommittee recommendations on Lockridge. As new board president, Lockridge has insisted that only he -- not the full board -- can determine the scope of the work which the board committees are to perform.
The board never really debate the merits of the subcommittee recommendations, but rather spent about an hour debating what would be the "proper procedure" for dealing with them.
"It's just incredible how ineffective the board can be. There was such time-wasting going on, all this babbling (about procedure) when there are such important issues at stake," said Sue Wynn, a parent of a learning disabled child and a member of the D.C. Coalition of Advocates for the Handicapped, who attended Wednesday night's meeting.
Special education programs, partly spurred by federal laws and court orders, have developed from an effort to guarantee an education to the nation's handicapped children, as far as possible by "mainstreaming" them -- placing them in regular classrooms.
In 1971, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph C. Waddy ruled that handicapped children have a constitutional right to public education. He also ordered the school system to place these youngsters in private facilities and to pay for their private school tuition when there is no appropriate program available to these youngsters in the public schools.
The court also gave the school system a 50-day limit in which to diagnose a child's learning program and then place the child in an appropriate special education program.