Yesterday I argued that Dr. Wardynski was hoping to divide the city of Huntsville over the issue of Special Education funding. He seems to be hoping that he could silence me and others of his critics by showing that special education costs more than regular education.
As I have seen with the special education community, I am hopeful that the general community will not succumb to his appeal to fear of the unknown, uncertainty about the true nature of the disabled, and doubt that something like autism is an actual illness warranting additional expenditures. But fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) are powerful weapons in the hands of a politician skilled in handling them.
And Dr. Wardynski is skillful indeed.
He’s benefited from the FUD that Dr. Richardson created when he endorsed a laughably pathetic demographer’s report that recommended the closing of nine schools in the system. Now many of those schools are afraid to ask questions about future plans of the superintendent for fear that “the state will close us down.”
He’s benefited from the FUD that he created when he immediately moved to fire teachers and principals, move principals around, or simply close schools on his own.
He’s used FUD as cover to hide his true plans as when he removed the letters from Lee High School the day before the board meeting in which the board voted to spend at least $1.7 million dollars to hire teachers who aren’t qualified to teach.
And he’s used it to attempt to divide the community over the issue of special education funding.
So let’s handle the disclaimers right up front. Yes, my son is one of the 2,445 students in Huntsville City Schools with an IEP. Yes, these cuts directly impact the quality of the education my son is receiving, and so I have a vested interest in this issue. I benefit from your interest in this issue. It’s true.
But it’s also true that your child is hurt by the cuts to Special Education as well.
Here are a few reasons why you should care about Special Education funding:
All kids have special needs. No kid is truly non-exceptional. There are areas where some children excel and where other children lag. A good educational system makes every effort to meet the kids where they are and help them get to where they need to be. Wouldn’t it be a better system if Dr. Wardynski looked for ways to meet the needs of the children rather than for ways to divide the community? Wouldn’t your child benefit from a system that sought to meet his or her needs? If it becomes acceptable to refuse to meet the needs of exceptional kids, it will become acceptable to refuse to meet the needs of all kids.
If Wardynski can cut SPED funding by $7 million with all the protections afforded to SPED by federal law, no program is actually safe. What makes you think that he won’t cut funding that directly impacts your child next? Music, art, and laboratories all cost money that could quickly and far more easily be cut than SPED funding. If you believe having a friendly relationship with the man will help, if you think that having a PTA president who meets with him regularly makes a difference, you should reconsider. If the superintendent isn’t concerned about violating state code and federal law, there’s no reason to think that having a friendly relationship will matter to him.
It could happen to you. The third point is a harsh one. You should know that in so far as my wife and I are aware, we did nothing to cause the boy’s autism. The national autism rates are 1 in 110 children. Last year in Huntsville the rate was 1 in 60 and those are just the numbers in Huntsville City Schools. They don’t count the hundreds of SPED parents who have long since given up on the school system actually doing their job of educating all of our children. We have good to great insurance, but autism is not covered in the state of Alabama. For the first two years after the boy’s diagnosis, we spent, on average $23,000 a year on private therapies.
As amazing as the gift of life is, it is also amazingly fragile. All it takes for any one of us to require extensive support and additional services is a single slip, a wrong turn, or standing up too quickly. I hope and pray none of you have to experience something like that, but I am certain that many will. In fact, I find it hard to believe that most of you don’t already know someone with a special needs child. When this happens to you or someone you know, how will you cope? Will having an underfunded special education program make much sense to you then?
Special Education is the last best hope for correcting the pattern of teaching to the test. Many of you may believe that it’s pointless to try and educate a special needs child. You may believe that they cannot be educated. Frankly, I know this isn’t true because I’ve seen the vast leaps my boy has made. But I am convinced that this is what Dr. Wardynski believes. He believes that we are wasting money on educating special needs kids. This is why he submitted a budget that cut $7 million dollars from SPED in a single year.
This is what hiring someone with no educational experience buys you: a leader unconcerned with teaching anyone who needs a little extra help to learn.
Do you think your child might occasionally need a little extra help to learn? In the system that we’re rapidly becoming, you won’t receive that help from Wardynski’s schools. His focus is entirely on testing. It’s on testing because people who don’t understand education assume that passing the test is all that matters. Special Education is the last bastion of education where the process is designed to meet the needs of the child rather than to meet the needs of the test. You should care about this because if Wardynski has his way, our system will be reduced to doing nothing in a classroom that can’t be done by a test proctor. This is his goal.
But finally, if these reasons aren’t persuasive enough, you should care about the cuts to special education funding because it’s the right thing to do. Plain and simple, it’s the right thing to do.
I hope you’ll join me in asking about the special education cuts. I hope you’ll join me is holding the superintendent and the board accountable for the education of all our kids.