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EDUCATION REPORT – August 22, 2002: Special Education - 2002-08-21

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

More than six-million American students have physical or mental problems. These disabilities make it difficult for them to do normal schoolwork. Some of these children cannot see, hear, or learn normally. Other children have mental problems that prevent them from cooperating in a classroom.

Some disabled students attend special public or private schools operated to provide for their needs. However, many disabled children attend special classes in public schools. Students with minor learning problems often study one or two subjects in programs designed for them. They also attend classes with non-disabled children.

For years, most children with special needs were not permitted to attend public schools. As recently as twenty-seven years ago, public schools accepted only one in five disabled children. Many states had laws that barred children with mental problems or limited intelligence. They also barred those who could not see or hear.

By nineteen-seventy-five, however, Americans had demanded legislation to improve life for people with special needs. That year, Congress passed the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. The law is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It orders public schools to accept and educate all children. The Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education supervises programs for disabled students.

The office says the law has meant many gains for disabled children and their families. The majority of such children now attend their local public schools in classrooms with non-disabled children. Many more disabled students complete high school than in the past. And many more disabled students are now going to college.

However, experts say there are still problems in special education in the United States. For example, some schools do not have teachers trained to work with disabled students. Other schools lack needed equipment or supplies. Parents of disabled students often must become activists to get the right services for their children.

The nation currently spends more than seven-thousand-million dollars a year on special education. Experts and families say much more is needed to provide necessary services.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.