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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 20, 2001

State must try harder to meet Felix deadline

Federal Judge David Ezra has given the state yet another extension of its deadline to comply with its own 1994 pledge to deliver proper special education services in the public schools.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the Felix consent decree had asked Ezra to immediately appoint a receiver to take over the operation of special education services from the state. And no wonder: Only nine of 21 school complexes in the state are in compliance.

But Ezra gave the state until Nov. 1 to bring that number up to 18. A fair reading of the schools' status casts strong doubt that the state can make the new deadline.

We hope no one involved in the state's effort to comply will take Ezra's reluctance to lower the boom as a sign of weakness, that yet another extension will be automatic on Nov. 1.

No sensible person, and that certainly includes Judge Ezra, wants to see a federal take-over, which might prove devastating to the rest of the school system. We share the worry of Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu that a receiver might be focused only on special education programs, to the detriment of the rest of the school system.

The way to avoid such a disaster is to redouble the effort to meet the deadline and avoid appointment of a receiver. That must include greater sensitivity to issues hurting morale and the recruiting and retention of special ed teachers — such as the governor's unwillingness to settle the teachers' contract dispute and the uncertainties caused by legislative hearings into Felix spending.

The state is spending seemingly huge amounts on Felix compliance, but that's mainly because spending was so minuscule only a few short years ago. LeMahieu tells us that our spending is still below national average.

There are widespread fears that because the number of children identified for special ed services has skyrocketed, there must be corruption or malfeasance. But experts tell us that the numbers are only beginning to come into line with Mainland school districts. We must accept the fact that large numbers of would-be special-ed kids in the past simply fell through the cracks.

Attitude is everything when it comes to complying by Nov. 1. If we must be dragged kicking and screaming into meeting someone else's unreasonable demands, the Felix case is likely to become much, much more unpleasant for us.

We must recognize that we brought this huge obligation upon ourselves by our previous — and unconscionable — neglect.