By Selma Brigham
As a retired special education teacher, it was with considerable dismay that I read the March 23 Gazette article describing the proposed changes to state requirements for special education teacher endorsements.
Federal laws were enacted in the 1970s to protect the right of children to a free and appropriate education, regardless of their disability. This was a tremendous step forward for our country.
As a result, many teachers and prospective teachers did postgraduate work to obtain endorsements in various areas of special needs in order to serve students appropriately. The purpose of the legislation was not to exclude students from contact with non-special needs students. Indeed the expectation was that each student would have the maximum amount of inclusion as was appropriate for that student, while providing interventions that would facilitate increased inclusion as would be appropriate for each individual.
I concur with Iowa State University special education professors Patricia Carlson and Carl Smith that changing the endorsements for special educators is not in the best interests of students with special needs. General education teachers certainly can benefit from additional training and collaboration with special education colleagues, but such training does not supplant the need for the special education classroom and special education teachers for part of the day, or in some cases for the entire day.
Being identified as a special education student should not be seen as negative, but as an opportunity for support. General education teachers today have more expectations than ever placed upon them. They should not be expected to offer the intensity of support and have the kind of classroom that some students need in order to be successful. This applies to all areas of disability, but in particular to those with emotional/social/behavioral disabilities.
When I was in graduate school in the late 1980s, one of my professors told us that this population was the most underserved segment of special education. I expect this is even truer today, especially with the ever-increasing numbers of youngsters being identified as being on the autism spectrum.
Without identification and early and ongoing intervention, many of these young people will live on the margins of society or, even worse, end up behind bars among the many mentally ill adults housed in our jails and prisons.
While changing the requirements for special education endorsements may be more expedient and cost-saving for school districts, doing so is not necessarily in the best interest of children with disabilities. As a special-education teacher for more than 20 years, I have worked with many great general education teachers who have expressed gratitude for the insight and support of special educators for our special needs students.
Let's not turn the clock back on our children's future.
Selma Brigham worked as a special-education teacher at the middle school level in Cedar Rapids from 1988 until her retirement in 2012. Comments: email@example.com