Thursday, January 22, 2009

Support Special Education Programs in ALL Schools

Mommy received this email from a friend today.

She kindly asks for you to please consider supporting this change in the Washington State school systerm. Whether my family chooses to send me to a private, public, secular, or religious school, it should be our choice. It should also be our choice without any discrimination.

Dear friends,

As you may know, we, along with two other families with special needs children, recently filed a lawsuit challenging a state ban on certain special education services in religious schools. Shortly after we filed the lawsuit, the state informed us that it would consider revising this discriminatory ban. To that end, the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction is now requesting comment from the public regarding possible amendments to its regulations that would allow services at religious schools. We would sincerely appreciate your taking the time to submit a brief comment. Comments should be submitted no later than February 5, 2009.

Here's a quick overview of the current situation, followed by information about how and where to submit your comments:

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Washington State receives federal funds to provide special education services to children. Because the IDEA is concerned with improving education for all children -- not just those enrolled in public schools -- a portion of these funds are required to be spent providing special education services to children enrolled in private schools.

While Washington allows these special education services to be provided to children in public and non-religious private schools, it excludes one group: children whose parents choose religious schools. These children are forced to travel off-site to a "nonsectarian" location to access services. As you can imagine, that is incredibly burdensome for children with special needs, and it renders services that are required in the classroom effectively useless. Consequently, many families forego the services, while others withdraw their child from their religious school and enroll them in a public or non-religious private school, where they can receive services on-site. We believe that no parent should be forced to choose between her child's physical needs and the school she believes is best for her child.

As noted above, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is now considering "a possible amendment allowing the use of federal IDEA funds on site of private religious elementary and secondary schools." (See We believe this would be a great result and would help special needs children across the state. After all, the federal Constitution requires states to be neutral toward religious options in public programs, neither favoring nor discriminating against religion. Under the current rules, Washington is singling out families who choose religious schools and denying only their children the special education services they need to thrive.

We encourage you to submit your comments to the Superintendent's office on this issue, which is Item # 3 in the "Subject of Possible Rule Making" section of the notice linked to above. Comments may be submitted by mail or email. For email, you may send them to or with the word "rulemaking" in the subject line. To submit comments by mail, you may send them to Dr. Doug Gill, Director of Special Education, OSPI, Old Capitol Building, P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.

If you would like more information about this issue or about our legal case, please visit this website:

Thank you.

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