2007-02-15 / Letters to the Editor

Support the special education budget

We are writing to urge the Jamestown School Committee to support and approve the Jamestown School's Special Education program budget proposal for the 2007-08 school year.

As members of SELAC (Special Education Local Advisory Committee), and parents of special education children, we are deeply grateful for the dedication and commitment to excellence demonstrated each day by the Special Education Director, Ms. Elizabeth Pinto, the superintendant, Dr. Robert Power, Principal Kathy Almanzor, and the entire talented staff in the special education program in the Jamestown schools.

We are also grateful for the time, energy and attention we receive from School Committee member Julia Held, who is the appointed liaison to SELAC.

A few reasons why we urge passage of the Special Education budget and continued support for the program at present levels:

1. Integrated Classroom Model is a Success: The goals of the program here are centered around an integrated classroom experience for special needs students. There is substantial research and clear anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that this approach is the most beneficial to the students. In simple terms, it means general education students, side by side with special ed students, are providing role modeling for the special ed child. Such a child absorbs certain activities, use of language, and modes of behavior that can best happen child to child. Prominent educators also believe school systems that don't offer a proper integrated, or inclusion model, and rely too heavily on separated classrooms for special ed, are setting the student up for failure. Again, there is research to substantiate that lower test scores and performance levels are found where the self-contained classroom is used for special needs students rather than the integrated classroom. Research also suggests the inclusion model has a direct impact on long-term outcomes, affecting a students' chances for success long after the school years.

SELAC understands and appreciates that integrated classrooms are a big commitment, both in terms of finances and staff size. But we remind the whole community that all students benefit from the integrated classroom because it dictates that a secondary teacher, or the co-teaching team, be present in the classroom. There is also research to suggest this model is producing results across the board, among the general education students, not just among the special ed students.

2. Budget Growth is Sustainable: Next year's Special Education budget is16.3 percent of the overall school budget, and has stayed at or around that level since 2003. That would seem to indicate a responsible and accountable program that grows at a sustainable rate.

Furthermore, it should be noted that there are no out-of-district placement students from Jamestown from pre-K through grade 7 next year. Let us recognize that it is much more cost-efficient to educate your students within their own community, sending them off island to an out-of-district school program for services is always more costly. To have not one special ed student, pre-K through grade 7, needing to be sent out speaks volumes for the success and correct approach being done here.

Special ed can seem like a mystery to those in general education or in the community at large. It can seem a hodgepodge of foreign teaching techniques, an alphabet soup of terms (I-E-P, O-T, P-T, PECS, etc.), and frankly, it can seem that way for the parent of a special ed child when one first begins this journey. What will all this mean? we so often ask ourselves.

Let us suggest this same sense of unraveling a mystery is what every day can seem like for many special ed children, often on the autistic spectrum, who struggle greatly with the simplest forms of language and human communication.

Please remember, in the end, this process is all about them. Helping those kids unravel this mystery which confounds them and so profoundly challenges their families.

The leadership and members of the School Committee have shown diligence and fairness in consideration of Special Ed budgets in the past and SELAC urges the same support this year and urges passage of the 2007-08 Special Education budget.

Donna Perry, co-chair, Anthony Rafanelli, co-chair,

SELAC 2006-07

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