Class 5-04 at P.S 62. Inocensio Casanova School in the South Bronx included students with wildly differing skill levels: there were 4th graders who struggled to read basic sight words like “the” or “went”— due to learning disabilities; there were also students who read above a 5th grade reading level. I was their general education teacher, and our classroom was an inclusion classroom, where students with special needs are educated in the same classroom as non-disabled students. The truth was, many of my students were struggling, whether due to an actual disability or years of gaps in their learning of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. My job was to provide my students with the support they needed to succeed no matter where they were academically, socially, or mentally.
The parents and families of my special education students worked hard to make sure their kids completed their homework and did well on assignments. Those families attended scheduled and unscheduled parent/teacher conferences, and encouraged their kids to apply the skills that they were learning in school to the real world. My colleagues and I also did our part: we attended workshops, classes, and actual role plays of conversations on how to best support students with special needs—and their families.
Recently, New York state Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein sponsored a bill that would have required public school officials to take into account the “home life and family background” of special education students when placing them in schools. Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill, due to concerns that it would have “created ‘an overly broad and ambiguous mandate’ to send more students to private schools, burdening taxpayers” with additional costs. Some of the concerns over the bill touched upon whether school districts would be paying for special needs students to attend religious private schools. Supporters of the bill may push for a new version of it to override the veto, but whatever the outcome is, reading about the bill did make me think about how the families of special education students can work to get the best placement possible.
Yes, more supports are needed for the parents of children with special needs, but there are ways that families and communities can help students in special education right now. Here are some key actions that families can take to support the child once he or she is deemed eligible for special education services.
1.Connect with the student’s teacher and the Individual Education Program representative(s) at their school for support on the process. These folks are qualified to explain the results of the testing for services.
2. Connect with child and youth advocates in their area to seek additional support. These advocates offer free services and work out of offices across the country.
All parents want their kids to achieve, whether or not those kids have learning disabilities. With or without a new legislative bill, there are resources that can help families understand the processes to get the support that will allow their children to succeed.