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Proposed education bill reported favorably out of Fla. Senate committee

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After hearing emotional testimony Monday in support of Senate Bill 1108, the Fla. Senate Committee on Education reported favorably on the proposed bill.

SB 108, proposed by Sen. Andy Gardiner and Sen. John Thrasher, would provide parents of special education students with more rights in regards to Individual Education Programs.

“When it comes to the process of family empowerment for those in the unique ability community, what we have found at the heart of the issue is the IEP process,” Gardiner said opening the meeting. Gardiner’s son, Andrew, has Down syndrome.

SB 1108 would support parental consent forms for specified actions, require teachers to learn more about teaching students with disabilities and mandate school districts to provide special-education-related services.

Thrasher, whose grandson, Mason, has Down syndrome, is an active member in the Down syndrome community

On numerous occasions Thrasher has heard parents discuss issues involved in this bill like parental rights in the IEP process, school accountability measures, and students’ access to professionals and resources that best serve their needs, he said at the meeting.

“Parents simply want the right to be involved in these very critical decisions as the young people move through the (educational) process,” Thrasher said at the meeting.

Broward County resident Nancy Linley-Harris and her daughter, sixth-grader Mariah, spoke at the meeting in favor of SB 1108.

Mariah, who is in Parkway Middle School’s S.T.E.M Magnet program, said she loves science and math, and her dream is to go to college with her friends to study to be a veterinarian technician.

Mariah is a student with special educational needs.

“Please, must pass this bill,” she said.

Linley-Harris advocated parents’ rights to sign off on decisions that greatly impact children and their collegiate and professional dreams.

She said the IEP team had made drastic changes in Mariah’s curriculum involving a strategic plan to remove Mariah from a track that would allow her to get a high school diploma. Linley-Harris was not in agreement and filed due process, but “lost miserably.”

“Families are not always in the position to hire lawyers, and districts usually win,” Linley-Harris said at the meeting. “The decision to remove my daughter from being allowed to be taught, learn and earn is shameful.”

Linley-Harris went on to explain the importance of inclusion in IEP. She said her daughter learns by watching, and schools should instill a peer buddy program.

Positive role models “sitting side-by-side with our children with disabilities will help  develop friendships and curb bullying with disability awareness,” Linley-Harris said. “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

After three more mothers spoke in favor of the bill, Senator Gardiner concluded by reinforcing his dedication to addressing issues involved in IEP.

“These children want the college experience,” Gardiner said. “I hope I can make that a reality for these families.”

About Leila Milgrim

Leila is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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