Monday, March 3, 2014

Part I: Michigan Proposes New Special Education Rules--You're in the Twilight Zone!

Michigan's Special Education System is Under Fire by the Michigan Department of Education

I was first apprised of the proposed changes to the state's special education rules about a week ago. I hadn't heard anything about them before that. I'll bet you haven't either. Perhaps you, like me, were more focused on local school initiatives, or on your paid work, your family, or the wintry weather.

Even those of us who try to pay attention to the state's endless list of education-related legislation have had a "pay no mind" attitude to rules. Rules, essentially, guide the implementation of legislation. They can be changed, with a much less public process than legislation. [It is a public process--in the sense that it requires public notice, there is the opportunity for public comment, etc. But it is a less public process in the sense that it often escapes notice.]

In researching this post and the next one, I found myself at the web site for the Michigan Department of Education's Special Education section, on the page devoted to public comment for the changes to MARSE--the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education.

And there, I found a very interesting, SEXY video. JUST KIDDING! Really it's kind of dry. (I've been told if you put the word "sexy" in your blog posts you bump up your readership!)

But it's only five minutes long, and it explains the rule making process in a way that is clear, and at the same time makes you think that there is nothing to worry about for these rules.  That--by the way--is not at all true, as I will explain in tomorrow's post.

For today, I would like you to watch this sexy, dry, mundane, essential, scintillating, slightly terrifying, stupendous video. It was there that I learned about the state's Office of Regulatory Reinvention--who makes these names up? NOW do you see why I thought I was in the twilight zone?

Essentially, when the Michigan Department of Education decides to revise rules, they run it by the Regulatory Affairs Office at MDE and the Office of Regulatory Reinvention--which is part of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).

[By the way, the Office of Regulatory Reinvention is sending out press releases that say things like: Office of Regulatory Reinvention Eliminates 1,500 Rules, Implements 100 Recommendations Making Regulations More Efficient.]

The Office of Regulatory Reinvention would have you believe that the main points of the special education rules revisions are that
The rules are being revised in order to incorporate currently used terms and law numbers to protect the rights of students with disabilities by: 1. Aligning Michigan administrative rules with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its implementing regulations, 2. Providing consistency with other state offices and departments, and 3. Clarifying inconsistencies with other rules or regulations. (Link)
But that is not true. It is much, much more.

The rules would change the implementation of special education in our schools in ways that go way beyond providing consistency. Advocates tell me they would gut the system and make it much harder for kids to access special education services.

But here is the main thing. I'm writing about rule making because it happens behind the scenes--this is not a legislative process. The public commentary on the rules is open only until March 13th, 2014. They will not take comments by email or fax. Mailed comments go to a PO Box (which means, I'm told, that mail can't be sent certified). Bowing to pressure, MDE recently added the option of giving commentary using an online form, but the comments are set up in a very specific way which is--frankly--a pain in the butt to use. And there are only two public hearings planned for these revisions. Coincidentally, both of them will be held on the same day!

Wait--there's more! There is a small legislative component to this. The rules get forwarded to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which is made up of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats from each chamber. But they can only reject the rules under very specific circumstances. So even though I'm listing the legislators names here, the legislators should not, and cannot,  be the primary focus of complaints about the rules. Those comments have to go to the bureaucrats who are writing up the rule revisions.

JCAR Members

State Senators

Senator John Pappageorge, Chair in 2014
Senator Arlan Meekhof
Senator Jim Marleau
Senator Tupac Hunter
Senator Bert Johnson

State Representatives
Representative Tom McMillin, Alternate Chair in 2014
Representative Jim Stamas
Representative Amanda Price
Representative Harvey Santana
Representative Douglas Geiss

And there is a meeting of JCAR coming up Wednesday, March 12, 2014, but I don't believe it is the main one where they will be discussing the special education rules, because public comment on the rules is open until Thursday March 13th. 

If you can't wait until tomorrow to read the details of the rules and find out action steps for public commentary, here are a couple of preview links:

Blog post by Marcie Lipsitt

Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates action alert

Read Part II--how to comment, and what to say, here.

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