Special Needs or Just Special Treatment?

Posted: November 6, 2012 in From Student to Teacher
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I have held back on writing about the mammoth topic of SPECIAL EDUCATION because every time I recall the experiences I endured and engaged in within this realm, my anger bubbles to the surface once again and I…don’t think pleasant thoughts anymore.

But, you know how life is…it has an interesting way of forcing a person to confront unpleasant situations and sort them out somehow.

This is exactly what happened this past Saturday.

I was excited to be exercising my right to vote and at the same time kicking myself for waiting until the last day of early voting here in the good old state of North Carolina.  It was a beautiful fall Saturday morning, colorful and crispy, just the way I like it.

I armed myself with a pen (because I don’t like sharing other peoples’ pens), water bottle, and earphones, excited at the prospect of listening to some of my more radical music — Elton John and Barbra Streisand —  as I waited on the potentially long lines.

Things began well.  I felt relieved that I was not bombarded with any of the Republicans I had seen lately, as they have been particularly rude and condescending to the door to door volunteers who have been sharing information with the public on the voting process and early voting dates.  But what else can you expect from Republicans?

Here’s where the punch to my gut occurred: As the poll official called me to the identification table, I immediately saw and smelled  the head of the special education department at the posh, upper crust school where I taught in Stepford Chapel Hill.  I am certain that we both recognized each other instantly and we did what millions of Americans do every day when they see people whose names they cannot recall from a recent meeting, or someone they would just as soon avoid for any number of reasons.  We hid.  We ducked away from each other, leaving trails of thermal energy from the burst of adrenaline that coursed through our systems for a moment.  I texted my husband and told him I was getting away from her very fast because I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed to vote if I backhanded her at the senior center.

The bottom line is this:  I hate her.

Now I recognize several things about this statement, from a variety of worldly viewpoints.  I am aware that hate is a strong word (the mommy talk) and that it is as physiologically damaging to my body as a cancerous cell is (the doctor talk), and that it is as pervasive as a virus, spreading throughout my psyche insidiously, corrupting all attempts at a peaceful zen-like state (the enlightened one talk), and that ultimately all that hatred means is that I am that much closer to going to Hell (the Catholic dogma talk).  Nevertheless, this woman became for me, in my last year of teaching, the very symbol of all that I despise within the special education system, and the antithesis of all that I believed in as a passionate proponent for education as the answer to so many situations.

I’ll call her Penny.

Penny is the head of the special education department, as I mentioned earlier.  She is the person who organizes a staff of incompetent fools, a group of unqualified individuals who are at times less knowledgeable than the students they have been assigned to serve, according to the federal mandates.  Human Resources must select these fine folks from a Cracker Jacks box.

This is probably an important time to acknowledge that there are some amazingly talented men and women in this country who selflessly dedicate themselves towards some students with special needs, kids who require intensive and complete care.  I have seen them personally do so much for the severely disabled, the severely autistic children, and other disorders that it has brought a tear to my eye.  I’m not talking about those true paragons of virtue at all.

But every educator has met the ones who signed up to become special education paraprofessionals and teachers because there is such a shortage of them, and this nation’s population of students with special needs has skyrocketed at a very alarming rate.  According to the following article (see link below) from EDWEEK,

about 5.8 million of the nation’s schoolchildren, ages 6 to 21, were receiving special education services through IDEA. About 61 percent percent of those students have specific learning disabilities or speech or language impairments. Only about 8 percent are diagnosed with significant cognitive disabilities, such as mental retardation or traumatic brain injury. More than half of all students with disabilities spend at least 80 percent of their time in the regular classroom. The size of that group of students—along with their inclusion in the general education classroom—has raised concerns about academic expectations, teacher preparedness, and cost.

The entire link for this article can be found here:


I am leagues away from being considered an expert on the state of special education services, or exceptional children programs as they have been referred to in the South.  The only perspective I can explore is my own, from close to a decade in the secondary classroom.  I did take the courses on teaching students with special needs.  I even followed up with another refresher, after having been out of school for a few years, just to make sure I was prepared to understand the situations I would be expected to deal with in my classroom.  Over those years, I have taught children with high-functioning autism, children who were blind, who had cerebral palsy, Asperger’s Syndrome, EBD’s, LD’s, Dyslexia, and more.   I have sat in on hundreds of IEP meetings.

The disorder which I have seen most often however, is the large umbrella known as LEARNING DISORDER.  It’s truly fascinating how much is thrown under this category.  Learning Disorder. Over the years, these are the ones who are scattered throughout most of my classes.  Sometimes, I would receive a manila envelope in my mailbox with the IEP information on as many as 25 – 30 students, and sometimes I would not receive any notification, until the end of the year when people like Penny would come up to me in the hall and say, “Oh, well, I see here Abel has a 53 in your class. Didn’t you call mom and let her know?”  When I would whip out my parent contact log and show documentation of several failed attempts to communicate with mom, Penny would pull the rug out from under me and respond with, “Well, Able has an IEP and according to the federal guidelines you can’t fail him, so put together a make up packet and I’ll make sure he does it.  You should have gotten the IEP information back in August.  You didn’t see it?  Oh well.  There’s so much paperwork.  When mom sees this failing grade, she will say that his accommodations haven’t been met and she will sue if he fails the class.” The accommodation I have seen most often for those with “learning disabilities” is the separate setting for testing, which only gives the super duper special education teachers the opportunity give the students answers to the teacher’s tests.

This system works quite well for the wonderful employees in the Exceptional Children Department, and the numbers look delicious at the end of the year.  The “teachers” in the EC department wipe the requisite tears from their eyes as their “babies” reach out their hand to collect their diplomas.

There are so many scenarios of the abuse, misappropriation of funds, incompetence, and general babysitting that exists in the special education department.  The lies are compounded upon the lies, and teachers like me sit at their desks fuming.  Unfortunately, as Kris Nielsen eloquently explained in his letter of resignation to the Union County School System, the educators who are autopilot go with the flow, and the rest of us are unemployed because we will not, cannot continue to watch the debacle and partake in it.  The gross ethical violations, the falsification of documents, the lack of anything resembling an education, the manipulation — these are all a part of a system that is rotten to its very core.

Here’s the link to Mr. Nielsen’s painful but proud letter:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/10/29/letter-from-disgusted-teacher-i-quit/

As I watched 60 Minutes last night, and listened to the two government leaders (I don’t know who they were) explain how the American budget deficit is so defunct and self-destructive, I came to the following conclusion: everything is a numbers game.  Our bright, well-educated government officials can’t work together well enough to help reduce so much wasteful spending.  The numbers are out of control.  Similarly, the public education system operates according to numeric expectations, endless numeric data, numbers, numbers, and more numbers.  Is there really any shred of hope for an education system run amuck when our constitutional leaders can’t even collaborate effectively to keep our country sustainable?

Here’s an overview and identification of these senate leaders:  http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57544857-10391709/an-exasperating-interview-with-senate-leaders/?tag=contentBody;listingLeadStories

There are people on waiting lists all over the United States for government services for their truly disabled and special needs children to get much-needed educational and therapeutic services, and according to the government agencies, there’s just not enough money for the thousands of them needing assistance.  But in the school systems, there are thousands of children labeled with learning disabilities who are simply lazy, and trifling, and have parents who let their children be in charge, and then want the easy ticket through school when their children are addicted to television, video games, junk food, cell phones, and computers that they haven’t got the slightest idea what a work ethic is, how to do any actual work, or even what sitting down and actually reading a book feels like.

Pardon me for my slightly Republican sentiment here, but I just don’t think the government should be required to pay for parental neglect and irresponsibility.  Teachers shouldn’t be swamped with kids who have never had anyone tell them ‘no’ in their lives and mean it.  And students who actually want to learn should not have to take honors and AP classes they are not qualified to take just to get away from the constant behavioral disruptions in classrooms.

In fact, I don’t know how people like Penny from the polls sleeps at night, knowing she’s a contributing factor to the decline of this country that I love so much, that she pushes kids out into the world who haven’t got more than a 3rd grade reading and writing ability.  I’ll save some of Penny’s tricks of the trade for another posting.  This has gotten long enough.


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