Originally created 08/18/99

A bad IDEA



The story, told by Richmond County School Board chairwoman Mary Oglesby, about a first-grade special education student who kept urinating on his classmates because he understood he couldn't be disciplined like his peers, provides a perfect example of why Washington has no business in the nation's classrooms.

The acronym IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) is proving to be one of Congress' worst education ideas ever.

It takes discipline away from local teachers and principals and puts it in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington. IDEA came up as regional public school educators aired some of their problems at a congressional hearing Friday in Waynesboro. IDEA federally mandates that impaired students, even those with mild disabilities, must be disciplined more leniently than their non-disabled peers.

This leads to a double-standard that even slow-witted children pick up on: They can get away with most anything, because teachers are fearful of disciplining them (which is why Oglesby's first-grader didn't stop urinating). The dual standard also breeds disrespect for discipline among the regular student population.

The rationale for IDEA is that unless special protection is granted special education students (i.e., the most difficult to educate) local school systems will kick them out to save money.

That, of course, insults local school systems. It suggests that only "compassionate" federal know-it-alls -- not local school authorities -- care about troubled students.

This is the kind of elitist, know-nothing thinking that leads to bureaucrats micro-managing classrooms from Washington while local school teachers' hands are tied.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., told the educators he'll introduce legislation to end the hypocrisy of giving second and third chances to special education students who carry firearms to school when other students are suspended or expelled on the first infraction.

Norwood's reform is welcomed, as far as it goes. But why not revamp IDEA (parts of which are good legislation) even more: To move the power to discipline back to where it belongs -- in local schools and classrooms.