Special education for disabled students over 21 years old who cannot complete a regular high school curriculum has been mandated in Michigan since 1971 in a law that pre-dates the 1975 federal special education law now known as IDEA. Most of these students (there were about 3200 of them statewide in the 2009 school headcount) have moderate to severe disabilities and, were they not in school, would require intensive services from the community mental health system and other agencies. There are higher functioning students who also fall into this category for a variety of reasons, but the vast majority have moderate to profound developmental disabilities.
It is true that no other state extends special education beyond the age of 21, but if these programs were significantly reduced or eliminated, it is difficult to believe that the cost and disruption to students and their families would be worth the savings, if any, to the state. There have been some assertions that these programs impede the transition of students to their communities and the services they will need later in life. These programs, however, are not compulsory and for those who participate there are built-in protections in special education rules to assure the right to appropriate services for individual students.
The Washtenaw Intermmediate School District (WISD) offers a variety of programs for students at all levels, many of them based in local communities and focused on skills needed by individuals to move on with their lives. Students like my son Ian who will graduate in June from the program at High Point School in Ann Arbor, have benefited over the years from the remarkable skill with which the teachers, aides, and other professionals work with students with even the most profound physical and mental disabilities.
The transition from school to our chronically under-funded and fragmented system of services for disabled adults is described by many families as similar to "jumping off a cliff". The experience would be no less painful when your child is 21or 22 than when he or she reaches the age of 26.
As far as I know, there is no bill in the state legislature yet that proposes to eliminate or change these programs, but that does not mean that it couldn't happen. There is one written proposal to significantly change educational programs for this age group that comes from the Michigan Association of Administrators of Special Education (MAASE). I will comment on this later.
Now is the time to take action!
The legislative Spring Break starts March 28 and lasts to April 11, 2011. It is important that each of us contact our legislators this week.
- Tell them about what services are important to you and why.
- Remind them that persons with Developmental Disabilities are among the most vulnerable in the State.
- Tell them you are counting on them to protect programs
You have the most influence with your own State Representative and State Senator. Find out who they are, if you do not already know. Click here for information on Washtenaw County state legislators.
Additional suggestions to get your message across to your legislator: Find out who in the legislator's office handles special education and other disability issues. Talk directly to that person and send written comments to relay to your legislator. Find out if there are events for constituents during the Spring Break and meet your legislator in person. Follow up later with a phone call to ask if there is any new information on legislation or hearings on these important issues.