As a parent of a special needs child and SEPTA (special education PTA) president, I feel it necessary to address several concerns of mine and those of many parents who have spoken to me regarding the education of their special needs children in the Glen Cove school district.
At the board of education meeting of March 15, the Glen Cove School District administration made several proposals regarding special education. In looking to cut their budget, they have turned their attention to replacing special education teachers with teaching assistants or first year teachers in the inclusion classes. Additionally, a second proposal was made to increase the number of special education students in the inclusion classes or shift the students into the existing self-contained classes thus increasing their class size. Lastly, SEPTA takes exception to the school administration's remarks made by Ms. Scricca regarding low achievement and "how it couldn't be any worse." SEPTA is concerned that the budget cuts will be disproportionately harmful to our neediest students.
Our first concern is that in some classes special ed teachers will be replaced by teaching assistants or first year teachers. Special education would be losing highly qualified teachers with years of experience in dealing with the varying needs of these students. Inexperienced teachers/assistants, though bright and enthusiastic, would not be equipped to handle these children. We would have no objection for these assistants to work directly under the experienced special education teacher while teaching together in the classroom and not have the special education teacher supervise intermittently.
The second issue is to increase the number of students in inclusion classes or shift these students to the existing self-contained classes. This is both disheartening and frustrating. I have personally sat in several inclusion and self-contained classes. I am in awe of the regular/special education teachers who are in charge of the inclusion and the special education teachers in charge of the self-contained class. The reason this works so well is that the groups are small. It takes every ounce of experience, patience, wisdom and affection not only to maintain control but to move these students forward. It is a wonder to see.
We were also dismayed by Ms. Scricca's misleading and disparaging remarks made to the school board. When discussing special-ed student achievements, Ms. Scricca replied, "It couldn't be any worse." It seems Ms. Scricca is implying that the program isn't working. This could not be further from the truth. Special education children progress at their own rate and it is quite an achievement. Even if a sixth or seventh grade student jumps from a 3.3 grade equivalent to a 4.8 grade-equivalent in math or reading - this is real progress giving them a great sense of pride in their achievement. I personally know special ed students who have gone on to college. Others have learned a trade and have become successful and productive members of their communities. This success is due in large part to the remarkable special education department.
Year after year, the special education program is threatened with disabling budget cuts from our own school administration. Year after year we keep pushing to ensure that what is mandated by law and what is best for these children is upheld. As a group, special education includes approximately 675 children ranging in ages from 3 to 18. This is a large number of children with varying needs to educate. SEPTA is very proud of our special education department headed by Mary Murphy. We find the teachers dedicated, tireless, professional and compassionate. Our children as a whole are thriving. All of this is occurring with the current budgetary constraints under which the special education department must operate. Our Glen Cove Special Education program is a model for other school districts. In our district which is plagued with other problems, why model for other school districts. In our district which is plagued with other problems, why tamper with success? In other words: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Perhaps the members of the school board should consider observing these special education classes and see for themselves the magic that is happening in the classroom against many odds. I believe then they will find it very satisfying to stand up for the special education program. We strongly urge the school board not to accept the future budget cuts for our neediest students.
Pauline Sartori, MD