Education poll, results ‘reflect poorly’

Commentary

I was deeply disturbed by your web poll posted at observertoday.com June 12 asking, “Should special education children be integrated into regular classrooms?”

It is hard to fathom that such a discriminatory question would be posed in 2019. I have been a special education teacher for the past 18 years and have worked with intelligent, talented and capable students who, due to disabilities including but not limited to learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, other health impairments and intellectual disabilities, rely on my services in order to level the playing field for them. Some students may need a more restrictive educational setting, but the majority of students with whom I have worked have been able to successfully participate, in some capacity, in the general education setting with supports provided by a special education teacher.

The question that was asked is disheartening for a number of reasons. First and foremost, this question was answered already in landmark Supreme Court cases, “P.A.R.C vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” (1972) and “Mills vs. Board of Education” (1972), in which it was found that the segregation of students with disabilities is unconstitutional. In 1975, Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children Act was established. It was later changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and most recently, Every Student Succeeds Act (December 2015). The creation and continued amendments to this law, “… guaranteed access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to every child with a disability. Subsequent amendments, as reflected in the IDEA, have led to an increased emphasis on access to the general education curriculum, the provision of services for young children from birth through five, transition planning and accountability for the achievement of students with disabilities. The IDEA upholds and protects the rights of infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families.”

Students identified as having a disability are all unique, with different strengths and needs, and to try and generalize such a large group of individuals as was done in this web poll demonstrates a lack of knowledge relating to the definition of special education and those who receive services when classified with a disability. To help enlighten those who feel that a person with a disability should not be integrated into general education classes, the following people have all been diagnosed with having a learning disability or ADHD, which fall under the classification of learning disability or other health impairment: Michael Phelps, Greg Louganis, Sir Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, Tom Cruise, Patrick Dempsey, Vince Vaughn, Keira Knightley and Channing Tatum. At least three of these individuals had needs that qualified them for special education services.

In our current climate, words matter more than ever. We need to be thoughtful about what we say and how we say it. If the person who penned this poll was trying to connect it to the recent board meeting for the Fredonia Central School District and the comments made by the Fredonia Teachers Association, then he or she did a very poor job. As was stated multiple times in the speech made by union president Michelle Greenough, the FTA concerns are about the lack of administrative communication and the timing with regards to the implementation of a partnership with BOCES and not about students being integrated in the general education setting. Greenough stated, “I have no doubt that given time to implement this partnership in a fair way, we could create a model for other districts to emulate.” She also said, “To be explicit, the FTA is not opposed to mainstreaming or to working with BOCES teachers, staff or students. We believe in the power of inclusive classrooms and collaborative relationships.”

This web poll question was created and posted out of ignorance and I am shocked that anyone at the OBSERVER would allow it to be put online. I am curious to know how many people participated in the polI, especially since 55% of those who answered are not in favor of the inclusion of special education students in general education classes, which I believe reflects poorly on a community that I have always found to be warm and inviting towards all people. I truly feel like I am in a time warp.

I believe a more relevant question would be to ask, “What are we trying to teach our children?” My hope is that we are teaching them to be open-minded, caring people who understand that differences make us a stronger, better community.

Shannon Ciciotti is a Fredonia Middle School teacher.

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