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Special education advocates rally at Michigan State Capitol

Oct 5, 2016

Most rallies these days are focused on the 2016 presidential election. But a different kind of crowd showed up Wednesday on the State Capitol lawn. Parents, lawmakers and advocates gathered there to raise awareness for the needs of students with special needs in Michigan.

A recent package of bills banning the use of restraint and seclusion in classrooms except in cases of an emergency is making its way through the legislature. The legislation came out of a recommendation by the Special Education Reform Task Force, which is chaired by Lt. Governor Brain Calley. 

Calley says Michigan needs continued funding and reforms, including less isolation, for students in special education. After his speech on the Capitol steps Calley said, “If we keep our kids with special needs separated out from community and society, how would they ever learn how to function and how to live in the broader communities?”

Debbie Rock is a regional parent mentor for the Michigan Alliance for Families, an organization for parents with children who have special needs. She was excited the rally was raising awareness, but she said more work needs to be done.

“We need an overhaul,” she said. “We need to make some really good positive changes and start implementing some positive behavior support. Some kind of a system in place that replaces that and gives our kids a fighting chance.”

State Board of Education President John Austin was also at the rally. He said that Michigan is working on improving special education.

“Our special education students, they deserve a great education and to be treated with dignity and respect and be supported to their full potential,” Austin said.

Some of the changes he wants to see in Michigan include: more funding, encouraging schools to place special education students in mainstream classrooms, and ensuring parents and kids have a greater voice.