2012-05-18 / Editorial/Opinion

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

For us, it is easy to fix the moment that the city’s public schools began to fall into disease and the deterioration of education in Rockaway began. It was the news that Congress had passed Public Law 94-142 just in time for the 1994-95 school year. PL 94-142 mandated that every student in the public school system throughout the nation had to be taught “in the least restrictive environment.” While that sounds just, it was the beginning of a problem that rears its ugly head from time to time and has recently resurfaced in New York City, not only to the detriment of high-achieving schools such as PS/MS 114 and the Scholars’ Academy, but to every school on the peninsula. Before PL 94-142 was passed, special education students, particularly those who tested as “emotionally handicapped,” were severely restricted to their own classroom for the great majority of the day and were called 12-1-1 students, meaning they were mandated to be in classes with 12 students diagnosed with the same problem, a teacher and a paraprofessional. The teachers worked with the students, they ate lunch with the students and the paraprofessionals took them to the bathroom and anywhere else they had to go. They were kept away from the general education students because, while some were very bright and some were not, they all had one thing in common: they were emotionally liable, which is a nice way of saying they were emotionally disturbed and could turn to violence and other inappropriate behavior without notice. When 94-142 became law, however, the Advocates for Children, a nationwide advocacy group, demanded that they be allowed to go to lunch, gym classes and auditorium programs with the general education students. The special ed students quickly realized they were lions among prey. They terrorized lunchrooms throughout the city and became the lords of the hallways moving from one place to another without supervision. As soon as parents realized that their kids had become targets, they called realtors and began the trek to Nassau County or moved their kids to private schools. That might be simplistic, but we saw it happen. Now, Bloomberg and his chancellor stooge want to save lots of money by breaking up those restricted classes, placing their students in general education classes in every school in the city, including those that operate far above the norm, including PS 114, PS 104, PS 106 and the Scholars’ Academy. The latter is a specialized school for those district students performing way above level. Those schools would be severely impacted and we believe that parents would once again begin to look elsewhere for a school with which they feel comfortable. Not only would those schools be impacted, however. In every school on the peninsula, emotionally liable students would be placed into general education classes to become a disruptive element in what is already a difficult class situation. To place special education students, even bright students, into classes where they cannot emotionally handle the situation would destabilize the building and force many parents, who have stayed on the peninsula because of the special schools, to look elsewhere both to live and to send their kids to school. It is a crass and stupid move, one that shows again the fact that neither Bloomberg nor his educational “experts” really understand the dynamics of what actually happens in the city’s public schools.

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