Friday, February 8, 2008

Family Voices Indiana Testimony to the State Board of Education

I am proud to be here today representing the families of the thousands of Hoosier students with disabilities served each year in Indiana’s public schools. Family Voices brings the perspective of students, families and direct advocacy and support organizations to the Article 7 revision process. Many families among our membership have personal education experiences in Indiana that date back to a time before Indiana had enacted policies that ensured all students access to public education. It is that heritage and also the ongoing experiences of families in all parts of our state raising children with a wide variety of disabilities that drive our desire to ensure that changes to Article 7 be evaluated in terms of their impact on students above all other considerations.
Family Voices recognizes that each family will have a unique perspective and experience, and it would not be accurate to state that all Hoosier families share uniform views on Article 7. However, Family Voices has sought input from across our constituency, and this position paper reflects a broad consensus on these issues. We are proud that the number and diversity of the signatories represents remarkably widespread support of the positions outlined.
All those for whom we speak today do share one core belief: any changes to Indiana’s implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act must put the needs of Hoosier students first. The IDEA was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just as their peers do. The Hoosier families we represent here today strongly believe that any changes to Article 7 should be evaluated in terms of their fulfillment of that goal.
Families who are raisings students with disabilities partner with their children’s schools in both a more formal and a more frequent manner than families without children with disabilities. The high rate of parental attendance at case conference committee meetings is one of Indiana public education’s great strengths. The dedication of Indiana families to ensuring that their children are served appropriately is reflected not only in these rates but also in their active interest in the Article 7 revision process. Families have repeatedly shared their insights with the State Advisory Council on the Education of Children with Disabilities both at the informal comment sessions held throughout the state and via written input. You will find among the Family Voices position paper several points of agreement with the State Advisory Council’s recommendations. You will also find points where their recommendations are troubling to families.
As families, we are directly experiencing what is working and what is not working in our local schools, our districts and our special education co-operatives. Families provide a unique and essential perspective on the vital importance of a strong and appropriate Article 7. Article 7 provides the rule book to guide all parties in the decision-making, evaluation and provision of services process that is the heart of each student’s Individual Education Plan. This guide must ensure that all Hoosier students truly do have access to a free and appropriate public education.
Family Voices urges you to consider carefully all the proposed revisions to Article 7. We recognize that the State Board of Education bears responsibility in its decisions for balancing the needs and desires of many constituencies, including teachers, administrators, school boards, service providers, community groups and other stakeholders with a vested interest in Indiana’s public education system. It is our hope that while you thoughtfully consider the perspectives we share with you today, you will weigh most heavily the needs of your most important constituency, those with the biggest stake in our schools, Indiana’s children.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
*note that a packet with the Position Paper and signatories listed was distributed to the board.

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