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Peter Polloni chapter 3


Chapter 1: Early Life and Career
Chapter 2: Work with PARC
Chapter 3: Right to Education (you are here)
Chapter 4: Closure of Pennhurst, Development of Residential Services, Role as Deputy Secretary
Chapter 5: Continuation of Ministry and Work Supporting People with Disabilities in Community
Chapter 6: Life After Retirement, Reflections on Career

transcript - entire interview

Peter Polloni Interview (Word)

transcript - current chapter

Chapter 3: Right to Education

6:36:39:18 - 6:40:47:15

Q: In 1970 PARC made the decision to pursue access to education as a first step toward closing the institutions, and I'm wondering if you can tell me about that decision, again, um, was it hard to persuade people to um, sue the Commonwealth for the right to education?

A: Well, the coming out of that earlier resolution and the involvement of legal individuals, that was the PILCOP organization and Tom Gilhool and Frank Laski and others, uh, did a study and a review of the institution and their determination was the best strategy would be to engage the subject of the right to education because of Brown vs. US having already been established many years before, '56 or what have you, that uh, that would be the easiest issue to approach and would be the easiest issue to make a determination that younger people, if they were provided their services in the community, certainly didn't need to be in the institution. Because you have their twin in the community already who can access or could ultimately access that service. So that was the argument and that was an easy persuasive argument. I don't think that threatened as much about the institutionalization. It would thwart people going into institutions if you had services during the daytime, for parents and give them alleviation. So that was a very important - I don't think that was a hard one. And it wasn't hard for the commonwealth to deal with it. They just threw their hands up and said, 'we give up, we're not gonna fight this'. It's you know, the attorney general advised the governor that that wasn't a, that wasn't a winnable situation. So that entered into a situation of, since it was in, it had been filed with a federal court, that Judge Broderick at that time, designated Dennis Haggerty as the master for implementation and negotiations and movement toward a more comprehensive service. The argument was there was nobody, regardless of the level of disability, that cannot be educated in some way, shape, or form. Now that's a pretty strong argument because people would point, you know, point to the very small percentage of somebody with a brain stem uh, that they, that they couldn't possibly learn. But the counter argument was, we need to try. And they have as much right to that approach to education and the compulsory sense as anybody else. So, uh, so the negotiations by the master with the department of education and all their people, and all the attorneys surrounding the thing, mapped out special education as it should be developed in Pennsylvania. Certainly one of the vanguards was the identification of the individual education program that, that all education for the disabled should be prescriptive. And that it should be following a plan and so on. You know, we really should say that about all education for all children. Uh, but it set the tone as to what ideal education should be. Is what are the abilities of the person, and then lay out a strategy and an educational plan that's going to develop some sense of success in relationship to those abilities that the person has. Not focusing on the disabilities but rather on the abilities, of course.

6:40:47:15 - 6:42:48:04

Q: I've always been so amazed by the implementation of the right to education. So much to do in such a short period of time. Identify children, identify teachers. Bring them together into a school in about 18 months' time. Can you tell me, Mr. Polloni, did the ARCs play a role in the identification of those children and um, helping them to make the transition into the public school system?

A: Yeah, absolutely. And of course, the school districts were mandated to carry out an ID program, but the ARC engaged personnel to develop material and to distribute it broadly across the state to channels where the school district might not reach. And so we had a people find or a child find program and we had a director, Edward Harris, who was an educator and who kind of headed the program up and developed the materials and used the associations and all other affiliated parties to distribute the materials. So that became more of a coalition because you had every reason to relate to the cerebral palsy organization, the Easter Seal people and others to be sure that materials were distributed broadly and so on. I think it was fairly successful and maybe in the, not sure what studies were done to show objectively what happened but I think it appeared to be fairly successful at that time. You always hear the stories of somebody who was overlooked or was found to be in their home and the parents just were ashamed and kept them behind doors, and you know, unless some heroic efforts are made to enable and help and get that individual out and into the programs, wouldn't happen.

6:42:48:04 - 6:43:49:21

Q: The Right to Education seems like it was life changing for so many people. Is that fair to say?

A: Absolutely. And as we said, PARC versus Commonwealth is in every textbook in special education because of the fact that it was significant. It wasn't the only place. I mean, there, as happens in so many areas, state by state, the laws are changed, and of course, Pennsylvania became a model. Massachusetts had already done some significant things in their 167 legislation which provided rights to education as well. And we had people from Massachusetts and personnel like Gunnar Dybwad who was at Brandeis, was a person who strongly supported those areas and, uh, he also had served as the national ARC executive director at one period, many years ago. Yeah.

6:43:49:21 - 6:46:48:27

Q: Did you feel like you were innovating at the time?

A: I certainly felt that it was good to be part of things going on. I mean, I think that the issue in my career is not that I had any major contribution to make, but that you were at the cutting edge and in the pioneering movement, and that you were, you were privileged to be there at that time. You know, it's the old 'in the right place at the right time kind' of issue. Uh, and so, um, many, many people involved. Many facets. Internal advocacy within the department of education, you know, in special educations were not dismayed or fighting against it. They were delighted to have these reinforcements for, for more programs to meet individual needs and so on. It was at the school district level that you found the resistance of administrators, of a budget in the county, uh, with that mandate you shall provide and you shall respond to this individual education program, and it shall be even to the individual in the least restrictive setting, uh, you know, this was all shall language. So there was resistance at that level of people who may not have been anti, but certainly were setting up their priorities in relationship to their budget. And of course, that has increasing become a problem in many, many areas of the country and in Pennsylvania, is that as budgets shrink, the purse is only so big, and yet there is a mandate there that you shall the things so the dynamics get touchy at that point, and uh, and that the community in general when they say, uh, the cost of that program for that child being sent to a specific and special facility, is costing 70 thousand dollars a year and the regular students cost us 15 thousand a year, you know? How can we justify this? It gets down to finance and budgets. And those often drive the issues of social justice and social services and so on. So it's not a forgotten issue, it's certainly on the front burner today and it certainly was back then. The ARC hired a position, of a special educator who we sent out to meet with parents as they went over their IEP to aid and assist them through that forest to come to some good resolutions for programs. So that was busy moving all over the state, for sure. But it was early stage, it was early pioneering stuff and so on. Yep.

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