–Dr. Kevin Maxwell
Children with special needs deserve the chance to be integrated into society. The days of hiding them away should be relegated to the past and every effort given to accommodate them. However, this should be done for their benefit, not ours. They should also be provided with the opportunity to retreat to a safe place when they become overwhelmed. In the LAUSD, these safe places are the special education centers. These are truly special schools where the most fragile of our students can have their unique needs addressed in a stimulating and accepting environment with trained professionals.
Unfortunately, the LAUSD has an unacknowledged, but readily apparent, plan to close down the special education centers. Parents are reporting that the district is depriving them of their final say in education decisions for their children by not making these schools available during the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process and intimidating those who push for the choice. As a result, the populations of these schools are steadily decreasing. Instead, these students are being forced into mainstream schools that are ill-equipped to handle their needs. These are students that need intensive assistance and at some point one of them is going to get lost in the shuffle of a general education campus and this will result in a tragedy. The district needs to reverse course before this happens.
Instead of forcing these students to be mainstreamed and shutting down these campuses, it would be far better to find ways to make them more inclusive. As a Board member I will push to turn each of these specialized schools into magnets that would also serve general education students who would like to pursue careers in special education. This would fit the district’s strategy of preparing all students to be “workforce ready” and would also help to ensure that students with special needs are provided with meaningful interaction with their “typical” peers.
From personal experience, I can tell you that these interactions are not occurring in all general education campuses. My daughter, one of my two who are on the autism spectrum, was enrolled in a class in middle school where she and her classmates were allowed to play games while the other students learned how to use a computer. At lunch, she sat at a table with her classmates while their general-ed peers played around them. This was not accomplishing the goal of socialization with the “typical” students. We also discovered that my other daughter was taken out of class ten minutes early every day so that she would not have to navigate through the crowded halls to get to her bus. While I appreciated the fact that the district said that this was for her safety, I also thought that it was a missed opportunity for education. If she is to have any type of independence in adulthood she will have to learn to navigate through crowds on her own.
“Special Education” is aptly named because it draws focus to the individual plans that must be developed for each student. The centers are an example of success in the LAUSD. We must not let forced mainstreaming endanger the uniqueness of these centers.