I have been part of the public school special education system for 30 years and have often found myself in a position in which I needed to advocate for the rights of students and families. In virtually every case, the teachers and administrators involved were highly caring and understanding professionals merely trying to follow the letter of laws which often seem intentionally arbitrary and restrictive. The fact is, educators have no motivation to deny services to truly handicapped children, and in fact are highly motivated to ensure the academic success of all students.
But while parents often feel neglected or even abused by the system, it is equally important to acknowledge the other side of the situation. While it is true that schools occasionally become overly rigid and restrictive in their interpretation of special education rules, it is far more common for parents to be unrealistic and unreasonable in the demands and expectations they place upon the public school system. I have witnessed countless examples of misguided parents attempting to obtain special education services for children who were clearly not handicapped. This not only creates a significant burden upon public schools and pulls special education staff away from students who truly need and deserve their support, but it also represents a severe disservice to the children who are convinced by their parents that they are handicapped when in fact they are not.
Parents need to realize that labels such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, anxiety disorder, depression, executive dysfunction, etc., etc. do not necessarily represent handicapping conditions or automatically entitle a student to special education services. Parents also need to understand that special education criteria are intentionally restrictive because the services are intended for the most severely handicapped students who otherwise cannot obtain an appropriate education.
It is unfortunate and quite frustrating for all involved that special education rules require children to fail before they can be found eligible for specialized instruction and intervention. But without such restrictive and objective criteria the special education system would be overcrowded with students who, more often than not, are not really handicapped.
The answer to the problem is clearly not to simply loosen special education criteria but rather to build provisions into the general education system so that more prescriptive and individualized interventions can be available to all students before considering possible special education involvement. Fortunately, this is the direction in which public education is now moving through efforts such as "response to intervention" (often simply referred to as RTI). While RTI poses its own problems and pitfalls, it clearly represents a concerted effort by public education to provide early and appropriate intervention to students in need.
So before you indict public education for being unfairly rigid and unresponsive, please take some time to fully understand the system we now have and the efforts that are underway to improve it.