Even Death Can't Stop the Bureaucrats

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
Read More.
a | A

Read this letter and weep:

"Rick and Scott,

I'm writing to appeal for your advocacy on our behalf. Ethan is dying. He has been in hospice care for the past month. We are in the last days of his life. His loving and dedicated teacher, Jennifer Rose has been visiting him every day, bringing some love, peace, and light into these last days. How do we know that he knows that she is there? Because he opens his eyes and gives her a little smile. He is content and comforted after she leaves.

Jennifer is the greatest example of what a dedicated teacher should be. About a week ago, Jennifer hesitantly told me that the district required a medical update for continuation of the med waiver for the adapted FCAT. Apparently, my communication through her that he was in hospice wasn't enough: they required a letter from the hospice company to say that he was dying. Every day that she comes to visit, she is required to do paperwork to document his "progress." Seriously? Why is Ethan Rediske not meeting his 6th-grade hospital homebound curriculum requirements? BECAUSE HE IS IN A MORPHINE COMA. We expect him to go any day.

He is tenaciously clinging to life.

This madness has got to stop. Please help us.

Thank you,
Andrea Rediske"

Rediske's son Ethan -- who was born with brain damage, has cerebral palsy and is blind -- was forced to take a version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test last year because the state requires that all students take it, according to the Washington Post. Rediske has to prove again that her son is in no condition to take the test, so she appealed to Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and the Orlando Sentinel's Scott Maxwell.

The impetus behind the No Child Left Behind Act is understandable, even laudable: Keep school district officials from classifying all the hard-to-educate kids as disabled and thereby exempt themselves from any responsibility for educating them. But torturing dying children and their parents is obviously not necessary to achieve this goal. If a kid is in hospice, I don't think we need to worry about whether he's making adequate progress on his school initiatives. Give an official broad discretion to make exemptions, and if he's corrupt or incompetent, fire him.

Of course, you will note that civil-service rules make this difficult. Whole tomes could be written about the ways in which ironclad job protections for civil servants have led to the wild proliferation of hard-and-fast rules designed to keep those civil servants from turning into mini-despots whose mere word is law in their tiny domains. But there is a solution to that problem, and that is to make the official with such discretion an elected position, or an appointee without such protections. And it's a solution that should be deployed posthaste.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

(Megan McArdle writes about economics, business and public policy for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter at @asymmetricinfo.)

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net