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Patch Poll: Should Special Education Be Part of Labor Dispute

Teachers and administration have different opinions. Patch wants to know if its readers think it should be part of the negotiations.

A tempestuous issue in the ongoing contract negotiations between and the teachers union has been increased placement of students with special needs in regular classrooms. 

Teachers have claimed the reduction of resources devoted to special education has been a detriment to both special needs students and the rest of the student body while administration and board officials feel the current approach benefits all students.

Patch wants to know if our readers think this should be part of the negotiations and we've created another unscientific poll to gauge community opinion. Readers of some of Patch’s previous stories have been posting their ideas on the subject in the comments section.

took issue with School Board President Ellen London’s recent statement that favors special education services without a classification. 

“The statement (by London) that some students ‘may never need to be classified as special needs’ implies delaying services or interventions until someone decides it is time is irresponsible to the students, staff and the community,” Meyer wrote.

also wants to see services continue to be defined through an individual education plan (IEP) when a student must have special services. According to him, his children became successful adults because of the services provided.

"Having two students with special needs who graduated from District 109 years ago my family found the process, controls and most importantly the special level of care, concern and creativity that came from special education teachers involved in the formal process to be invaluable,” Steindler wrote.

Anne was blunt. She does not think District 109 give enough care to special needs children. “District 109 only supports those who are above average, ignores those in the middle and demoralizes those with IEP's,” she wrote.

There were no comments supporting position of the administration and the board.

robyn whiteman December 02, 2011 at 05:39 PM
My kids are middle of the road students, not TAP, not special needs. Yet I do not sit back and take exception that the negotiations are partly focused on special needs students. A child is a human being just like the rest of us and that fact remains no matter where they fall into the educational spectrum. Part of what the schools have been implementing is differentiation for each student. It is not a new concept yet it is brilliant. Every child deserves the chance to be and live their highest potential. For a child to reach this potential it must be taught at home and in school. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Waldorf schools understood the importance of this. His philosophy is that a teacher’s “aim is to draw out a child’s inherent capacities by creating an atmosphere in the class that fills a child with interest, wonder and enthusiasm”. This is not meant for a chosen few but all children. Who are we, any of us, to take away from any child? Exclude them because they are special needs, exclude them because they are middle of the road, exclude them because they are a bit more advanced. When we understand this, we can begin to see that what the teachers are asking for is not excessive; it is a gift. It is a gift by wanting to teach them that they all matter, that they all have a chance to be their highest potential, and that they all fit in this world. It is time to wake up to the fact that life does not base itself around the chosen few, we all matter.
Bob Mavet December 02, 2011 at 08:39 PM
There are Illinois State standards and federal guidelines that are administered to determine eligibility for special services. These are not simply arbitrary observations or subjective assessments. Both 504 Plans and IEPs (Individual Education Plans) are designed to enable students diagnosed with special needs to receive adequate and proper instruction. There are guidelines for requiring up to 600 minutes per students towards these services depending upon the severity of the disabilities and prescribed remediation. There is no secret that Deerfield District 109 has been shifting focus to the gifted program at the expense of special ed. While it is desirable to prescribe a program of inclusion to "mainstream" these students, practically this may not be in the best interest of the students. I suggest that the District be accountable to the public and disclose compliance with the appropriate minutes per student (anonymously to protect the privacy and actual identity of these minors). Let's see if they can stand scrutiny and accountability by submitting their records to independent audit. This is not an either/or situation; gifted students also deserve the opportunity to excel. Yes, this should be a topic of discussion in the course of negotiations between teachers and the district. The teachers are professionals dedicated to providing proper services to ALL students and should not cater to board members who support shifting dollars away from special ed to gifted students.
Mara Meyer December 03, 2011 at 03:33 AM
I take exception to this poll! It is absolutely inaccurate. The issue is not the placement of students with special needs in the general education classroom. The issue is the amount of support these students and the generall education teachers are receiving with a skeleton crew. This District has a long history of avoiding the obvious necessities of the students in need of instructional support. They have ignored teachers and parents when questions have arisen regarding instruction. Many families in this community have sought out of District support for their children's educational needs. It is time for the commuity to send the message to the Board and Administration to WAKE UP! If you are so worried about the economics of the community then worry that families can no longer seek outside services and the PUBLIC SCHOOL will have to follow through with meeting all students needs.
Harry Steindler December 08, 2011 at 06:01 AM
I'm not sure that the delivery of services to children with special needs should be a negotiated issue. It seems that professional educators (teachers and other service providers) with support from experts in education of children with special needs should determine how to deliver services. Negotiation seems to imply that rights could be "negotiated" away - that the rights of students with special needs and their families could be used as a bargaining chip - that's not right. Only strong involvement from stakeholders will assure that students and families are getting the services they need and deserve; not contract negotiations - however, if the board is asking to in any way limit or restrict the delivery of services to and care for students with special needs - the public needs to hear about that - and stand up to stop any limitations placed on teachers or students. Deerfield schools should do the best job possible to take care of the students and families who need our resources most. That should never be a point of negotiation.
Bob Mavet December 08, 2011 at 02:52 PM
Harry, you are correct to point out that delivery of special services is not a negotiation, but a mandate at both the state and federal levels. The nuance here is the assurance that there is adequate staff employed by the district to be in full compliance with ratios of qualified special educators to students, that designated minutes are provided to students in accordance with their IEPs and that the district not surreptitiously shift dollars from special ed to the gifted program favored by a select number of board members and administrative staff. Inclusion is simply one technique for assuring socialization of students but is not the sole remedy for remediation of disabilities. The negotiations should make the district accountable for proper delivery of these services while the union needs to insure that educators are sufficiently equipped to assist the students in achieving their individual goals and progress to their best abilities in striving toward reaching their appropriate grade level. Perhaps an audit of current practices would reveal that minutes are being curtailed and students are being shortchanged? This is not simply a policy of fiscal governance as the district has sufficient funds to pay for these resources; rather, it is the discretionary act by administrators who favor gifted students to the detriment of those requiring special services.
Mara Meyer December 08, 2011 at 10:21 PM
All the middle managers take their lead from the Superintendent who also takes the lead from the Board. As ultimately, those are the ones we should influence.
Bob Mavet December 09, 2011 at 11:41 PM
It is apparent that District 109 places more emphasis on the gifted program than special...Angela Chamness is a Director, Margaret Wade is a Special Education Program Coordinator http://www.dps109.org/learning/Pages/default.aspx. District 109 has issued a handbook of gifted services http://www.dps109.org/learning/gifted/Documents/Handbook%20of%20Gifted%20Services.pdf. Full Disclosure of district resources (salaries, educational materials, workshops, stipends, etc.) for both programs should be disclosed to public side by side. Certainly this will tell the story.
Katie Bittner January 10, 2012 at 04:54 PM
You are absolutely 100% correct. I am a teacher and also parent of a student at the middle school level of a student with a disability. Ever since he arrived there the student services coordinator (who still to this date has never bothered to have a conversation with my child OR introduce herself) has attempted to slash his minutes of service and totally mainstream him in to regular classes. I refused to succumb to her bullying and disrespect because I know the law and what he is entitled to. I am frightened for parents who do not have the knowledge of special education and what has been taken away from their children. Parents need to bring advocates ( that are available to them at no cost) with them to meetings at the school so that they understand the process and the services that can and SHOULD be provided to their children.
Katie Bittner January 17, 2012 at 03:48 PM
The 109 School Board President stood and told us on January 9 "there have been no cuts to Special Education" yet every parent I have spoke with has experienced a cut in the minutes of service provided to their child (especially at the middle school level) Special ed administrators meet with parents and tell them ALL the progress their child has made and that they should be "included" with the general education population. Inclusion IS NOT THE BEST OPTION for all children. All children should be given the services THAT THEY NEED, NOT WHAT THE SCHOOL HAS IN PLACE. Parents of students with disabilities do not need to succumb to what I would call "bullying" into what services, teachers, programs are in place. This is so AGAINST THE PURPOSE OF AN INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PROGRAM. Parents of children with disabilities need to exercise their due process rights and FIGHT for what the federal law manadates. IT IS TIME TO SPEAK OUT.
Harry Steindler January 18, 2012 at 06:22 AM
After talking with numerous teachers and parents and hearing the educators team tonight, it is apparent that the assurance of educators' involvement in the establishment of special needs policies and procedures absolutely must be guaranteed as part of the contract currently being negotiated. Perhaps in time, if we have an administration open to collaboration with teachers and other educators, this wont be necessary. Now, it is absolutely needed.

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