Special Kids, Special Parents, Special Education
University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 47, 2014, p. 733-
59 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2013 Last revised: 25 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2014
Many parents are raising children whose mental, physical, cognitive, emotional, or developmental issues diminish their capacity to be educated in the same ways as other children. Over six million of these children receive special education services under mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, called the IDEA. Once largely excluded from public education, these children are now entitled to a free appropriate education. In this article, I argue that the special education system must begin to pay attention to the needs of parents if it is going to fully serve the children. In particular, the system needs to support parental competence and pay attention to conserving parental resources. I propose three significant reforms to the special education system that, I argue, will improve the chances that children in need of special education will receive it. The three reforms are: 1) putting parents in touch with each other, 2) requiring school systems to commit to common special educational plans through a public process, and 3) adopting universal design pedagogies in general education when practicable. While the most expensive of the three proposals is the adoption of universal design pedagogies, the most controversial is requiring school systems to commit to common special educational plans for similarly-situated children. None is cost-free, however, so I conclude by demonstrating that the costs of parent-oriented reforms are justified for reasons of pragmatism, to comply with congressional expectations, and to achieve social justice for parents with special needs children as compared with other parents and with each other.
Keywords: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, parents, reform, special needs children
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