Not everyone is so fortunate

Congratulations to Mr. Teeboom for being such a quick study when it came to learning English and thanks for being civic-minded and serving as an elected official for so many years. That said, he is wrong on nearly every point he makes in Sunday’s op-ed about special programs and supports in our schools. I’ll let others speak to programs like counseling and ELL, but as a retired special education teacher, I have nearly 30 years of real-world experience to share about the unfortunate belief that the Sink or Swim philosophy represents the Good Old Days of public education.

There were times in my career when I carried as many as 30 students on my case load and other times when I taught a handful of students their home districts just wanted to get rid of. I wonder which of my students he’d say weren’t worth the money and effort. The girl who constantly got into fights because she was so traumatized by what was going on in her neighborhood? She’s now a mother of two children, a PTA dynamo, and finishing up her law enforcement degree. Was she a waste of taxpayer dollars? How about the boy who was a constant disruption because Fetal Alcohol Effect caused him to be so impulsive? He showed up at our house a few years after graduating from high school and a tour in Iraq to let me know he was fine and still working on tanks for the Army. Were the 3 years I spent helping him with social skills and self-control not worth the money and effort? How about the boy with autism who had daily meltdowns in 6th grade and acted in school plays and won ribbons in speech contests in high school? Or the girl with learning disabilities who struggled all through school and now has earned her long-haul trucking license and is studying agriculture so she’ll be ready to take over the family farm? Or the little boy unable to manage pre-school because of sensory processing problems who is now excelling in every aspect of elementary school? Were two years of therapy in an early childhood special education program a waste of our precious resources?

Oh, but the bottom-line low-tax zealots don’t mean those kids. They’ve proved themselves worthy of our support. Then how about the kids with multiple disabilities now living in group homes and doing piece work at Good Will? Or those with cognitive delays who will be partially dependent on their parents and public supports for the rest of their lives? Should we just cut our losses early on and send them home where they’re less a drain? Are they not also deserving of the best public education has to offer?

Making public education accessible to all children is expensive, and it is true that special education rolls have increased over the last 30 years. It would be productive for those concerned about this to do some research into the causes for this increase, of which there are many, and work on real solutions. It is not productive to suggest the solution is simply to cut programs and turn students with special needs loose to fend for themselves.

Some of us, like Mr. Teeboom and I, are lucky to have had the personal, social and environmental resources we needed to succeed in school in spite of our challenges. Not everyone is that fortunate. In fact, the genius of public education is that, increasingly, through the efforts of educators and lawmakers, we no longer just get rid of kids we don’t believe are worthy. We don’t include or excluded them based on their needs, abilities, or social status. We cherish education, as our Constitution requires, for all children. We understand that while financial responsibility is essential, the bottom line is not more important than the precious lives of vulnerable children.