Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Alexa Posny Interview - Part III

My recent interview with Dr. Alexa Posny, the new Assistant Secretary of Education for OSERS (the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services) covered a lot of ground. This is the third of a series of occasional posts concerning the interview over the next few weeks. "JG" indicates that I am speaking. "AP" indicates that Secretary Posny is speaking.

The photo on the left shows that Dr. Posny was so new as Assistant Secretary that they still had the last guy's name on the directory. Believe me they will soon know that she has arrived. She is very impressive.

In this post, we discuss IDEA reauthorization:

JG: It is amazing, but it does get back to one point you made too. I think that IDEA, like no child left behind, has also been wildly successful. We sometimes forget. We get all stuck in the data and stuff and we forget. I just read a 1919 opinion by the Wisconsin Supreme Court called State Ex rel Beattie - - this was 1919, so it' must be taken in a historical perspective and that’s hard - - but the state supreme court actually approved of the exclusion of a child with cerebral palsy from public school based on the fact that he was nauseating to the teachers and the other students. So, we've come a long way.

AP: Yeah, well, we have. I always talk about that. And it's interesting that you bring up a case in Wisconsin because that's where I was born. But I tell people because people are saying, gee, you know, we just haven't done enough and said, no. I said, I think this has been downright phenomenal. In 35 years - - in a little over three decades - - what we have done has been absolutely remarkable. Absolutely every child with a disability has total and complete access, not only to an education, but to the highest quality and be held to the highest standards. I've gone to other countries. I've gone to Japan. I've gone to China. And first of all, I ask, where are they? You know, because you don't see them. Now, I had a chance to go and I got to see some, but we're talking about less than 1% of the population and I don't even like to think about where they are. But what we have done in that just that short period of time and I look at my son and he does not know what it's like to not be in school or anywhere else without kids with disabilities. That's one generation. In one generation, we have made a see a change.

JG: It is. It is remarkable.

AP. I do, but I still say, we're in our infancy.

JG: Yeah. Oh, yeah, and that's part of the thing too - - lawyers don't like special ed law because it changes frequently.

AP: Oh, all the time.

JG: And it's not like property where you can pretty much know or you have a set of facts, so you can pretty much determine and advise your client. You just can't do this in this area. You don't know what the hearing offer is going to do. They are crazy sometimes, I'm told. So, let me bring you to the reauthorization. First of all, do you know what kind of timeframe we're talking about for IDEA. I know congress is busy with a few other things right now.

AP: Well, they are. I mean, health care has to be coming through first and then, of course, ESEA. So, in terms of the timeframe, technically, IDEA is up next year, you know, for reauthorization. But I think timing is going to be everything. You know, we really do need to work on ESEA first because that is behind the time. So, I think it'll be after that. Can I give you a particular time period? I would say probably within the next couple of years, okay?

JG: Okay.

AP: Now, but there's a part of me saying that as we work on the reauthorization of ESEA, I'm hoping that we see parts of what we see in IDEA be put in ESEA. I'm hoping that we will begin to see some of the similarities, some of the areas that should be the same.

JG: Okay, and in terms of the climate, it doesn't seem to me that special ed is a particularly partisan type issue. In fact, we've seen Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia, for example, vote the same way on special ed Supreme Court cases. Is that your reading? Is that the political climate?

AP: Absolutely. It's always been my need to - - you know, when you think about it, how can it be partisan? I mean, we're talking about assisting any child with a disability. That is not a partisan issue, not at all.

JG: And, again, that is my reading of it. Once congress is done with it, of course, it's going to be time for a new federal regulations again. That's always fun.

AP: That's correct.

JG: Do you have any idea how long that will take or is that just too far down the road now to estimate?

AP: Well, no. You know, having been here when we did the regulatory part last time, when you really think about it, it really is almost like a four year process, okay? Because what happens, you know, we redo the law and then states have to redo their law. Meanwhile, we're working on the regulatory part, you know, and we redo that and then the states have to redo their regulations. So, it usually takes about four years to completely turn it around.

JG: Okay.

AP: So, I mean, that's - - and that's not bad. That's reasonable.

JG: Yeah.

AP: I know people think that it sounds extreme, but no, that's about right.

JG: But again, it part of that cycle though. Everything is changing at some point, then the law changes and the federal regs change, the state regs change, you get hearing officer decisions, you get court dates and then it's time to start all over again.

AP: Exactly right. There is another part of me saying, you know, we need to be thoughtful about it. So, we don't want to rush it either. We do want to do it the right way. The other thing is and often what we hear from states, especially having just come from a state, is we also need to give them time to redo or to put things in place to allow this to happen and if we give them a timeframe of saying, you have to have this all in place in a year, we're being unrealistic. So, I mean, it takes time to make these changes as well. So, it's realizing that and understanding that.

JG: Alright and that does sound reasonable to me, but there's other people out there that have different agendas. So, once again - -

AP: Yes.

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  1. Absolutely every child with a disability has total and complete access, not only to an education, but to the highest quality and be held to the highest standards.

    Jim, does she really believe this statement? If so she needs to come to Mississippi and get a dose of reality.

  2. Mandy,

    Thank you for sharing your comment.


  3. Giving 4 years for statutory changes in IDEA to work their way through the state law and regulation process is reasonable - as long as one is looking from top down and assumes that the real clients are the state ed. depts. and districts. If one assumes that the real clients of IDEA are the children, then accepting that it will take 4 years for important changes in IDEA to go into full force and effect is being grossly negligent, period.

    OSEP and OSERS have acted for many years as though their "real" clients are state ed. depts. and districts. It's overdue for that to change, drastically. Children with disabilities and their parents are the real clients, and if OSEP and OSERS can't operate on that assumption, then it's time OSERS and OSEP were abolished. They've been acting like pure captive regulatory agencies for far too long. For all the real good they do, they could be replaced with an automatic check-writing machine over at the Dept. of the Treasury. I've said this for years: OSERS and OSEP have gotten so bad that privately, a large number of prominent folks in the disability community now agree with me. If we don't see some real, pervasive, systemic change in the way that OSERS and OSEP operate, I think we'll see them coming out publicly with comments to this effect.

    Dee Alpert, Publisher

  4. Thanks Dee,

    I appreciate your saring your feelings and views.