Of particular concern to groups like the Maryland-based Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or CHADD, are proposed federal laws that they fear would inhibit teachers who suspect that a child might have a learning disability from suggesting to parents that they have the youngster evaluated.
One is the Child Medication Safety Act of 2003, which would bar school officials from requiring learning-disabled children to get medication as a condition for being allowed in school.
"As a condition of receiving funds under any program or activity administered by the Secretary of Education, each State shall develop and implement policies and procedures prohibiting school personnel from requiring a child to obtain a prescription for a controlled substance in schedule II under section 202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act as a condition of attending school or receiving services," the House bill, HR 1170, says in part.
They fear that the potential for schools to lose federal funding will lead instructors to avoid the issue of learning disabilities altogether.
"It's really absurd, because if a teacher is not the person who can raise those concerns, if a teacher is not the person with the mandate to raise concerns about a student's learning, who is? They're the experts, aren't they?" said one teacher with 15 years experience in special education who asked not to be identified.
"That said, I'm horrified when I hear teachers say 'That kid needs to be medicated,' though I've seen so many kids with attention deficit who do so much better when they get the medication they need," the teacher said. "I've seen so many kids who want to be good students and are bright kids but can't screw themselves down to the chair without medication."
Another concern is a proposed revision of IDEA, called the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003. The measure would revise the requirement that a student who has been diagnosed with a learning disability be re-evaluated every year to requiring new evaluations only every three years, among other provisions such as making it easier to remove learning-disabled students in some circumstances.
Proponents of the measures say they would give parents greater control, and allow teachers to focus better on the classroom.
According to a statement released by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, regarding the IDEA revision, HR1350, is that the changes will lead to "reducing the number of students who are misidentified or overrepresented in special education" and allow teachers "to teach, not fill out paperwork."
A Success Story
Advocates fear that if it becomes harder under law to deal with children in special education, more will fall through the cracks.
Evelyn Green, an administrator with the Chicago public schools' Office of Early Childhood Development and the president of CHADD, said she has seen such "discarded" children among the gangs on the streets of Chicago.
"What's really clear is that some of these kids, particularly the leaders, are really bright, but a lot of them are angry and frustrated," Green said. "It's evident having a conversation with them that they are very bright, but maybe they can't read because they're dyslexic. The frustration with their learning disability leads to them acting out, taking it out on society."