New school plan must allow for special education
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New school plan must allow for special education

Continuing the conversation As a father of three students enrolled in the prohibitively expensive yeshiva education system, I applaud any effort by well-meaning and well-informed people to discuss how to provide a quality education to our children in a fiscally responsible manner. At the same time, however, I believe that these deliberations cannot be at the cost of our overall communal values. For this reason, I was surprised to read in the April 10 report on the organizational meeting in Englewood to discuss a low-cost, no-frills alternative to the current system that one way in which this plan aims to cut costs is by not providing special-education services. Indeed, as the lack of special-education services was one of the points “emphasized” by a spokesperson at this meeting “because of its higher costs” (as reported in this paper), it appears that this particular budget cut is, in fact, a cornerstone of the low-cost plan.

My question to the well-intentioned formulators of this plan, then, is this: What educator believes that cutting special-education services is morally, educationally, or even feasibly appropriate? Let’s assume that by “special education” the formulators of this plan are referring to any pull-out services required by a student to succeed in school (resource rooms, special programs such as Reading Recovery, small-group instruction, etc.). Do the proponents of such a plan believe that a test can be given in kindergarten accurately predicting who will need these services over the years? And, being that no such test exists, how often do the proponents of such a plan believe that ongoing assessments for special services should be given? Every year? Every quarter? Every month?

And let us suppose that it becomes apparent in December of a child’s first-grade year that she is well below grade level in learning to read. Do we have that child wallow for the remainder of the school year without providing the assistance she needs, or do we kick her out of the no-frills program mid-year to attend a more expensive program that will provide the assistance she needs? In the proposed class of 23 students, how much of the teacher’s time will a student require to be considered a student with “special needs”? One-twentieth? One-fifteenth?

Additionally, is it just students with special educational needs that this proposal aims to discriminate against, or is it all special needs? Does a ninth-grader with an eating disorder get kicked out of the program because she may require more attention from the school psychologist than she is allotted in the budget? Will a sixth-grader having a particularly difficult time coping with his parents’ divorce be told that “special guidance services” are not available in the low-cost program? And if the low-cost plan is based on parents paying privately for the extra educational or emotional help their children may need, where then are the savings to parents?

And to those parents who still feel that, even if special education in all of its varieties is necessary for some children, they should not need to pay for services their own children do not require, my response is: Just because your child doesn’t need these services, who is to say that your next child won’t? In other words, we all recognize that, despite the overwhelming burden that yeshiva tuitions place on our families, the tuition dollars we pay as a community do not come close to meeting the actual costs of educating our children. If a family decides that their child doesn’t need special services and therefore opts to attend the no-frills program that does not provide these services, should the community then be asked to foot the bill for their next child, who might require these services and therefore attend a higher-cost program? Is cutting special education to save money for people who do not feel they need such services any different from a group of wealthy families proposing that, because they are not in need of financial assistance, they should be able to save money by opening a program that doesn’t offer scholarships or use a portion of their tuition to help fund scholarships for the “financially disabled”?

It does, indeed, take a village to raise a child. And if a group of concerned parents and community leaders chooses to explore an educational alternative that lowers the tuition burden on parents by cutting down on extravagances or de-emphasizes the materialistic aspects of our schools’ current educational models, such an endeavor should be applauded. But providing and funding special-education services for those who, with these services, can succeed quite well in our schools is neither extravagant nor materialistic. Rather, it is a communal and moral responsibility from which we all, directly or indirectly, benefit. A program that denies these services is not a meaningful contribution to the discussion of the tuition crisis, but rather an experiment in social Darwinism that is sure to hurt more families than it helps.

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