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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

State cannot afford special-ed backsliding

The state's long and painful effort to come into compliance with federal laws governing special-education students may not be as close to an end as many had hoped.

State lawmakers have told Advertiser reporter Johnny Brannon that the special monitor of the state's efforts to reach compliance now wants to keep the court's thumb on the state for as much as two more years.

Just three months ago the monitor — Ivor Groves — said he saw enough progress to declare the state substantially in compliance. He recommended that federal Judge David Ezra end his direct supervision of the state's efforts.

But now, lawmakers say, Groves wants the supervision to continue.

The issue appears to be sustainability. That is, under heavy pressure from the court, the state threw an extraordinary amount of money and manpower into providing services to special-ed students as required by federal law.

In fact, it ended up being a "Cadillac" system that went beyond the bare minimum required under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

This allowed to state to hit the benchmarks set by Judge Ezra to measure compliance. But hitting the benchmark and staying there are two different things.

If Groves and the court sense there has been some slipping, one can understand why they would want to keep the program under court supervision.

The problem here is that the court has one imperative: bringing the state into compliance with the special-education program it consented to create. The state's Education and Health departments have a much broader mandate; caring for special-education children is but one part of what they must do with their limited budgets.

The state must convince the court that it not only can meet service benchmarks honestly and thoroughly, but will continue to provide those services in a sincere way once the court has gone away.

So long as the court maintains control, it will never be possible for state officials to do what is best, and what is right, for all those it is committed to serve.