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Tom Freston was one of MTV's founding executives and until recently served as CEO of Viacom. Freston is responsible for the generation-defining ad campaign "I Want My MTV." In 1987[…]

Special education and public responsibility.

Topic: Special education and public responsibility.

Tom Freston: Well I haven’t really talked about this because, I mean, it’s been going on for almost 10 years. And it’s something I feel really strongly about, and it’s really about the responsibility of . . . of public education to people with special needs – with learning disabilities. Many . . . They’re called by many terms these days, but I mean the fact remains is that the public school system in many ways is inadequately resourced to deal with the needs of these types of students. So if you’re a parent, and if you’re a parent from a low or middle income group who can’t necessarily afford to send your child to one of these special private schools where they get two teachers in a classroom; or the classrooms are small; where everybody has a Masters degree and at least in special education; where they teach kids very consciously these strategies about how to deal with this; where they teach kids that you should have a high level of esteem. And that if you’re a parent, you’re in a very vulnerable position because there are several years when your kid is in primary school that will determine probably for the rest of his life how he’s gonna do.  And every parent wants the best for his child.  And this lawsuit that I brought, which was initially promised to me on an anonymous basis . . .  It was gonna be a case Tom F. vs. The Board of Education.  We went through the New York, you know . . .  We were accepted finally after two court victories by the Supreme Court, which accepts only 100 cases a year.  So even less than that now.  So it’s an issue of national importance.  And at some point some court reporter put my full name in the paper, so all of a sudden it became “Tom Freston”, and it became a news item.  And that was not the most comfortable thing for me and my family.  So I really not wanted to talk about this.  I would just say that this happened a long time ago.  My son since mainstreamed into school.  He’s done fantastically well, and in many ways because of this education he received very early on.  But the issue was the New York City School Board of Education began a policy to say that you cannot claim reimbursement.  You are allowed to if you had been sent to one of these schools to actually get the city of New York, or whatever city you’re from, to reimburse you for the private education on the grounds that well, “You pay taxes, and we admit we can’t adequately educate your child.  So send your child elsewhere and we’ll help you pay the bill”  They began to change that policy to, “Put your child in public school for a couple of years and let’s see how he does first.  And if it doesn’t work out, then we’ll reimburse you for education in one of these, you know, special education private schools.”  Well the fact is who wants their kid to be a guinea pig for two years in programs that have (01:00:59) not been really rated very high; programs you don’t really know about.  And the answer is really nobody.  So there’s an awful lot of people who were looking at the results of this case and how it might impact their ability to get their kids the proper education that he really needs and deserves to get.  So . . . and I felt very good that the Supreme Court basically sided with the First Circuit Court decision.  And you know after 10 years it was a nice, sweet victory to have.  And I would say too that the money that I did receive, which I did for three years, was given back in multiples to create special education programs for public school children here in New York on the west side of Manhattan.  So this wasn’t something that I was really fighting, you know, to personally, financially benefit . . .

Recorded On: 7/6/07