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DOE must be more understanding of autistic students

TimesLedger Newspapers

When one reads that the city Department of Education suspended dozens of special needs 4- and 5-year-olds last year, one has to suspect the DOE is failing some of our most fragile children. This revelation comes on the heels of new policies for special needs students just initiated this school year.

Students with disabilities make up 12 percent of the student population but also account for 32 percent of the suspensions in the system.

Special education students, non-English speaking students and students from dysfunctional families are more likely to do poorly in school and have lower reading and other test scores, thus making their school a “failing school.” It is these students whom the so-called “better” charter schools keep out so their test scores are higher.

Special needs students have Individualized Education Programs. This explains what education problems the child has and how he or she should be taught. All this is expensive, but in many cases the child can be made a better-performing student and a creative member of society. A number of young, autistic special needs children are bright but may need an individual school aide to help them focus and not make noise.

As this school year started, the DOE may have encouraged principals and teachers to change the IEPs for children to put them in larger classes or provide a one-on-one teacher for fewer hours or cut other services to save money. In the upper grades, principals sometimes pressure teachers to make their special education students do better on tests.

Low test scores can reflect on a school’s rating. Some students, if helped in a resource room and by other individuals, can do better, but some students can only do so much. Each child is different and special education teachers should not be blamed if they will not accept more students than required by law or if their children cannot pass tests.

Average parents who are not familiar with the federal special education law may be steamrolled into accepting fewer services for their child. A parent is supposed to be at any meetings which give a child fewer services than previously designed in the original IEP.

Looking at the lives of some of the most creative people in our country, one can visualize that some had the symptoms of being withdrawn or seeming to hum to themselves, which one finds in bright autistic children. The DOE does not seem to understand that these bright, special needs students need a one-on-one teacher to help them focus and develop.

As the service cuts put into effect by the DOE this school year continue and time passes, we may see more and more articles about special needs children being deprived of the services they need and having problems and special education teachers being given “U” ratings for things they have no control over.

Thanks to City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) there is a constant fight to preserve services for special needs children.

Mark Weprin led the fight to restore special needs money to the DOE. David Weprin took up the cause of parents whose pre-school special education children had their services changed arbitrarily by the DOE. It was typical of the DOE doing things which parents thought were not appropriate for their children.

One cannot now talk about special needs teachers and their charges unless one talks about the life and death of 52-year-old special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy and her pupil, 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Murphy was Dylan’s one-on-one aide. Her job was to bring him out of his autistic world of isolation. They both died wrapped in each other’s arms as an ill person pumped automatic rifle bullets into them.

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