Mediation Office to Open for Special-Ed Disputes
Ferrechio, Susan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Parents who want to take legal action against the D.C. public school system because of inadequate special education services can get help from a mediator, Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman announced yesterday.
Mrs. Ackerman said a mediation office will open April 6 to help parents and school officials work out disputes over the way the system educates mentally and physically disabled children without involving costly lawyers that end up draining the system of millions of dollars.
Under federal law, all school systems are required to set up a mediation office, which Mrs. Ackerman heralded as "a major step" in her effort to reform the city school system's beleaguered special-education program, which serves more than 12,000 children.
Parents and special-education advocates, however, say that mediation will do little to alleviate the backlog of hundreds of mentally and physically disabled children awaiting services - some of them for longer than six months.
"It's a joke," said Janet Unonu, president of the D.C. Down Syndrome Association, whose son, 15, is afflicted by the disorder.
Mrs. Unonu enrolled her son in a private D.C. school three years ago but says the public school system has failed to provide him with a computer and special help negotiating Metro, both of which he needs so he can learn to function independently. …