Does ESE need an IEP? It may come as news to many of my regular readers, but before I turned my attention to the writing life I worked two decades as an exceptional education teacher in Florida’s public schools.
Over the years, I have written a significant number of opinion and commentary pieces covering education. My newspaper columns earned me several conferences in the principal’s office when I was teaching, one visit from an assistant superintendent, and – a couple of times – serious invitations from a consortium of well-heeled “backers” to run for both the Hillsborough County School Board and the State House.
But I’ve found that it’s easier to have pointed opinions about things when you don’t actually do them anymore! So I’ve been writing less about public education and (unlike the politicians) I’ve tried to limit my “weighing in” to areas where I actually know something.
EPIC FAIL: But yesterday, when I read the news headline that Hillsborough County’s head of exceptional education has been forced out (in the wake of a number of high-profile and tragic problems), I decided it’s time to share some thoughts on the amazingly complex world of “special needs” schooling.
First, it’s the law. Public law (94-142, 1975; and IDEA, 1990) mandates that states provide access to “free and appropriate” schooling, regardless of any given student’s unique set of abilities. This means that any diagnosable departure from the statistical average that can demonstratively be determined to compromise a child’s potential for success in school must be accommodated, and such exceptionalities cannot be considered cause for simply not teaching the child, for exclusion, for suspension, or for dismissal.
(The above law does not apply to private schools, which immediately makes meaningful comparisons vis-a-vis “success” untenable.)
The reach of Public Law 94-142 and IDEA extends to a wide range of categories, including student IQ (both significantly above and below average), physical challenges, and emotional/behavioral anomalies. The term exceptionality, according the U.S. Department of Education, is used to “identify patterns of strengths and needs common to groups of students.”
BEHAVIOR: My specialty was behavior. When I was young and tireless I worked in the field of autism, helping to establish cutting-edge interventions that literally re-wrote the protocols in north-west Florida. Later I spent a number of years helping children classified as SED (severely emotionally disturbed).
OBSERVATIONS: Several things became obvious to me during my tenure. First, working with special needs students requires complete commitment, a deep love for children, constant higher-order thinking, limitless patience, unbelievable stamina, and the dogged belief that what you are doing is and will make a positive impact in students’ lives.
The second observation is that I ran into a disturbingly high number of individuals (professional staff, para-professional staff and parents) who came nowhere close to meeting – or attempting to meet – the majority of the criteria listed above.
My third observation is that there is a huge discrepancy between the emotional rhetoric behind ideas such as “No child should be left behind,” “We believe in education,” “We believe in our children,” “Every child should have equal access to a quality education…” and the willingness of people to actually pay for what they demand with such passion.
Put those three observations together…
What it takes to work with challenged and challenging kids
Who is willing to work with these kids
What we’re willing to pay for their education
…And what we’ve got is a pretty-much guaranteed struggle or fail scenario for a great deal of exceptional student education.
But there are – I believe – a number of viable solutions to what is a systemic malady. I plan to post these (depending on my schedule) either tomorrow, this weekend, or early next week.
Stay tuned, because I believe I have some important things to say - DEREK
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:14-17)