Letter — Special education children aren’t ‘costly burdens’

To the editor:
As part of his transition plan Governor Lamont, the Education Committee and the Planning & Development Committee have drafted numerous bills regarding school regionalization. Although language has been updated to remove the words “redistricting” and “consolidation” to “sharing” and “collaboration” the bill still imposes deadlines for data collection of all of our districts and does not specify whether the decisions of this Commission on Shared School Services will be subject to a legislative vote or will be written into law with no input from those who it will directly affect. All of this is a particular threat to those with children in special education.
As a school psychologist and parent of two special education students I was perplexed, disheartened and offended by the language within the Transition Policy regarding Special Education.
I don’t appreciate my children’s education being referred to as “[a] volatile and costly burden on local taxpayers.” My children and the children I work with each bring their special contributions to the world. Reducing them to a fiscal red mark is an attack on the special needs community.
According to Autism Speaks, 1 in 59 children are born with autism. Cutting corners on their education will place a heavier burden financially down the line. Studies support early intervention as having the best long-term outcomes for developing skills necessary to becoming independent adults.
Looking for methods to reduce costs is reasonable but not if it results in a decline in quality of services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. If transferring “other services” to regional centers means supports will be provided through outplacement we certainly are not meeting the child’s needs of an education provided within their least restrictive environment, which is not only important to give our students access to their peers but to have them continue to take pride in their school and community. To attend with neighborhood children who they see at local events, to share the school bus with their siblings, to not force upon them the idea that they are “different” and therefore less than.
I believe the policy and proposed bill are intentionally vague to not have people like myself who are in the field poke holes through these theories from an educational perspective. The amount of services a special education student receives is based on need, not on cost. We are not meeting FAPE or doing our children justice if we are looking at it from any other perspective. I implore other parents of special education students and special education staff to ask questions and demand answers. Our most vulnerable are at risk when special education becomes nothing more than their bottom line.
Jennifer Colello