The Pepperdine School of Law Special Education Advocacy Clinic hosted the "Special Education Law Symposium: Examining the IDEA in Theory and Practice" in February with various panel topics that ranged from social and behavioral issues to the effects of gender and race.
The daylong event included six panels with 14 key experts in the field, each with a focus on discussing the elements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as well as the rule of law and its relationship with, and obligations to, special education. Additional topics included the role of socio-economic status in special education and its tie with race and gender.
Also discussed was the inclusion of charter schools in most school districts in the United States. Panelist Robert Garda, professor of law at Loyola University, New Orleans, noted that there were 5,600 active charter schools in the United States in the 2010-2011 academic year. He also noted the lack of resources many have for special education students.
"They are not expressively saying don't come to our school," Garda said. He continued by stating that instead, charter schools often do not offer the same services found in most traditional public schools, therefore providing such schools with the opportunity to turn down students with an individual education plan (IEP). "Zero reject is at the core of IDEA."
Panelist Valerie Vanaman expressed her concern with the possibility of segregation within the public school system.
"What's going to end up happening is there will be a public school system of disabled students, and a charter school system of non-disabled students," she said. Vanaman is a well-known and respected advocate and attorney for individuals with disabilities who are seeking equal education opportunities.
Students and alumni alike were involved in, and invited to, the symposium, which was the first of its kind to be hosted by Pepperdine.
"Our law students embraced this event as their own," said Richard Peterson, director of the Pepperdine School of Law Special Education Advocacy Clinic and assistant professor of law. "They were intricately involved in the planning, preparation, and activities of the conference. It was a great opportunity for them to not only enhance their knowledge and understanding of the law, but also to meet with the people who author the treatises they use in their study of the law, as well as network with local practitioners who are potential employers in the future." Peterson continued, "The conference was a huge success. Those who attended were deeply impressed with Pepperdine and were very complimentary about how well the law school organized and administrated the event. In fact, the clinicians and scholars who attended have determined to continue this conference as an annual event with next year's meeting to be held at Loyola Law School in New Orleans."