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Maryland's barriers to disabled students must go

Maryland's barriers to disabled students must go
Parents of students with disabilities rarely prevail in legal battles with local districts. That lopsided reality causes many families not to bother challenging schools that fail to comply with federal law that guarantees equal access to education. File. (Michael Gard/Post-Tribune)

As a blind parent, father of three children (two of whom are blind), and as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I was simultaneously frustrated and pleased to see Talia Richman bring attention to the critical issue of special education due process hearings in Maryland (“‘Why would we even try?’ Parents of disabled students almost never win in fights against Maryland districts,” May 2). I am all too familiar with the artificial barriers that some, often well-meaning, school administrators erect between blind students and their full academic potential. In most of these cases, securing high quality Braille instruction for blind students, particularly for those with some vision, leads to long, expensive and burdensome due process hearings similar to those Ms. Richman describes.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law governing special education, is a well-intentioned but flawed law that frequently dooms parents, advocates and students with disabilities to that adversarial process. Maryland can and must do better. In addition to the administrative battles, Maryland schools are failing to leverage a great wealth of Maryland resources to develop model educational programs. The headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind has been in Baltimore for 40 years, yet our frequent attempts to partner with Maryland school districts have gone unanswered. Imagine how much better our children would have it if we could partner in the classrooms rather than argue about our perspectives in the courtrooms.

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We look forward to working with Del. Stephanie Smith as well as the rest of the Maryland General Assembly, parents, advocates, administrators and students with disabilities to make the necessary special education reforms so our students can live the lives they want.

Mark A. Riccobono, Baltimore

The writer is president of the National Federation of the Blind.

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