2012-06-29 / Columnists

East End Matters

Inclusion: Special Ed Children Do Not Equal Problem Children
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

In The Wave’s May 15 editorial “If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It,” this newspaper wrote about its objection to the new inclusion policy the Department of Education has announced for special education students in the city.

While I also disagree with the implementation of the policy at this time, the reasoning behind The Wave’s position is faulty.

Having a young relative who is a special needs student I take great exception to what was written. According to the editorial, special education students equal problem students who are “emotionally liable.” Well, let’s take on that. We all know that there can be troublemakers in any classroom – general education or special ed. I’m sure we all can remember at least one such student sometime during our school years.

A special education child does not equal a problem child. It equals a child with a disability. Not a child who should be feared. By the way, may I ask why the correct term for the policy ‘inclusion’ was not used once in the editorial? Maybe it is because that word would bring up feelings of compassion for the child, which the editorial clearly did not want you to feel.

Several letters to the editor also called the editorial wrong. Educator Guy Nevirs wrote about special ed classes, “Most students that I have serviced throughout my years are wonderful children who are entitled to the extra help they need. They are social, kind, and get along well with their peers and adults.”

Kevyn Bowles, who teaches in a Rockaway school, wrote, “We have children with speech and language impairments, learning disabilities, autism, other help impairments, and yes — some with emotional disabilities. We would be failing these students, and their general education classmates, to isolate any of them from the rest of the school population.

Even those who learn in a small, selfcontained classroom are mainstreamed for lunch and other activities. With the support and guidance of a well-trained and caring staff, these students have found success. They are not tyrannizing our hallways or terrorizing without supervision. Rather, they are a cherished piece of our school family.”

What makes this policy change, as the editor put it on May 15, a crass and stupid move is not the inclusion plan itself but the fact that this plan has no plan. No one seems to know what will come in September. Talk to teachers and administrators at schools, they sure don’t know about it. Parents don’t.

Earlier this month the New York Times’ Schoolbook page reported on a rally held on the steps of City Hall asking the DOE to hold off on the implementation of the policy.

“Special Education and general education parents have not been informed,” said Mona Davids, the president of the New York City Parents Union, an advocacy group. “There has been no outreach.”

Carmen Alvarez is the vice president of special education for the United Federation of Teachers. The union held a workshop during the first week of June, the Times reported. Many of the more than 600 teachers, parents and principals did not know anything about the plan. “They didn’t know what it meant,” Alvarez said.

The family of my little special ed student is not afraid of inclusion. They welcome it. If it weren’t for the speech delay, you wouldn’t even notice any difference from a so-called normal child. But they want the decision that it is time for inclusion to come from those who have been working with the child and know what is best, not from some administrators at Tweed, a mayor looking for an education legacy or so-called child advocates.

Inclusion is not a bad thing. But, as we end the current school year, there are too many questions and not enough answers about a program that will be starting in September.

Here are some of the questions that need answers. Will general education teachers receive the training they need to work with special ed children? How many paras will be in the room to help these children with their academic work? Will it be one-on-one or one per class?

Since the new funding formula is for special education money to follow the student and not for special ed classes, will principles feel pressure to create the maximum class size of 28 to 32 students in an inclusion class. Is this all about money or our children?

Bowles wrote, “[Special Education] was meant to be a method of delivering services to children with disabilities in ways which would allow them to reach their maximum potential.

Doing this in an inclusion setting — the least restrictive environment — holds students to higher standards, gives them access to the general education curriculum, and exposes them to positive peer role models.

When teachers are trained and supported (as should be the case), inclusion has benefits for all students.”

I agree. But, this policy was just given the green light by the Panel for Education Policy on May 23. It may be three years in the making at the DOE, but shouldn’t parents and teachers have at least a year to ask questions and do their homework on the issue?

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I want to congratulate former Wave colleague Vivian Rattay Carter on the publication of her book “Images of America – Rockaway Beach” earlier this month. She has been all over Rockaway Beach promoting the book, doing book signings and lectures since its release. I attended one such lecture at Peninsula Library and it was fascinating.

Whether you live on the east end or the west end it is all our history. This Arcadia Publishing book is worth your time. And if you can make it, so are the lectures.

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