Something is very wrong. Back in the mid-1950s, I was instrumental in getting Port Washington's first "Special Education" class off the ground. It consisted of about a dozen children who were mentally retarded to varying degrees, emotionally disturbed, or brain-injured.
Now, the number, per the most recent school budget report, has ballooned to 516, or 11 percent of the whole school body, plus 37 pre-schoolers with disabilities, all up from the year before and climbing. Only 50 children fit into the original categories.
Sure, this figure is approximately duplicated elsewhere on LI and Newsday reported that nearly one in eight students is considered "Disabled." I am also aware that school districts get substantially more financial aid from NY State for Special Ed students, ignoring federal guidelines and undoubtedly a major factor in the proliferation of such classes. In Port alone, the cost of Special Ed is now over $4 million, not counting another $3 million plus earmarked for tuition in BOCES, etc., reflecting a steady increase over the years.
Back when it all began, our kids were lucky to learn to read and write to some extent and acquire some general knowledge and basic living skills. (Public "Pre-School?" Nobody had ever heard of it.)
Now, I find that 92 percent of Special Ed students are graduating, 65 percent with regular diplomas, 16 percent with Regents diplomas, and an astounding 68 percent going on to college!
By what stretch of the imagination has this become possible? Is it because of the inclusion of 269 students currently classified as "Learning Disabled," whatever that catch-all means? I would like to ask Supt. of Schools Albert F. Inserra to itemize exactly what disabilities that figure represents.
I would further like to add my voice to those questioning the value of Bilingual Education, another steadily growing addenda to everybody's school budgets.
How on earth did the children of earlier immigrants not only learn, but excel in school, in business and in politics? I for one did not speak a word of English when I was packed off to kindergarten and there were, I know, thousands in the same boat, not only entering kindergarten, but into all grade levels.
And in how many languages are we willing to teach? Is it fair to children to exclude any of them? How many teachers who can cope with them all are we supposed to hire? Finally, are the children of today's immigrants considered less capable than their predecessors?
As you see, I am questioning the ever-growing scope of our school budget, a subject I did not want to bring up before this year's budget was passed.
But I can no longer be silent. I would like to see my questions answered, clarified in detail and in print before the next budget is put before us.