Last week there was an article in our local paper titled, "Special Education costs blamed for (school) layoffs". Lucky for Boo this is not her school we are talking about. However it struck a chord. Why must we pit one against another?
Our town is small. We do not have many businesses therefore the tax burden rests on the property owners. Frequently we see battles pitting the school department against the municipal side of the budget. This is the first time, to my recollection that we are putting students (and their needs) against one another.
I am extraordinarily grateful that this article was not about our town. Yet I live with a fear that it will be soon and we should explore ways to avoid it at all costs.
Probably because this is the first time I have had a child in the "special education" cohort of the school system.
Which is not quite true. My older daughter goes three mornings a week for extra help in math. She has gone to summer school for math assistance. This is the only subject she struggles in and the school (and tax payers) have supported her needs. I am sure it is for the care they show all students and also to increase the MCAS standing of the school. A quid pro quo, if you will.
Boo on the other hand is a different situation. Boo brings tremendous value to her classroom. Her classmates will grow to be more empathetic, understanding of another's needs and more accepting of their peers. Inclusion means that while Boo is exposed to peers for advancement while she advances their sense of community.
But she is a drain on the school system. Boo receives physical, occupational and speech therapy from the school system (which in my opinion should be the responsibility of our insurance company to pay). She has a dedicated 1:1 therapist that is with her during the school day. This is for Boo's safety (she wanders) and to make sure she can participate in class activities. That is, after all, the purpose of inclusion: to have Boo participate. Without the aide she simply cannot.
Due to the layoffs, that other school system has modified some 1:1 care. Now a therapist will have 2 (or more) children under their responsibility. Let me explain why that is an impossible task to give that staff member. Logistically it is difficult. If you take your two children to the playground you know they will not leave. If a therapist takes Boo and her other charge, she cannot have Boo on the slide and the other child on the swing. How can she make sure both are safe? What if one has to use the bathroom?
Education-wise it is still ill-advised. The therapist sits at a table with Boo and reviews counting. If she has another charge, how can the children and the therapist concentrate and make sure the program is run correctly and with consistency? Just as a teacher with 30 students in a class cannot make sure every child understands the Vietnam War, a special needs therapist cannot split their attention equally with more than one child and be confident they are getting the most out of the child. Having another child is a distraction for all.
But who should pay? That is really the question and you are probably not going to like my answer.
I believe the parent should pay for some of the care and education. It is our child and our responsibility. However we cannot. We simply do not have the money to pay. Just as the town budget is stretched a parent of a special needs child is under a financial burden unlike no other. Our medical bills are higher, we pay out of pocket for supplemental insurance and at age 5 we are still purchasing diapers, wipes and pull-ups. Due to the amount of physician and therapy appointments we also cannot work 40 hour work-weeks. A family with a special needs child budgets in ways you never imagined. It is constricting and inventive.
Here is where I will again anger many. I also think that the tax payers should not have to pay for music, sports, clubs or electives. English, foreign language, history, math, science? Yes. That is education. But electives, including music and art, should be the responsibility of the parent to pay. Those electives are also a drain on the school system. There are pensions, salaries and healthcare costs associated with those staff members just as the special education staff.
There are a lot more students taking electives than using the special education department.
I am not sure of the answer. I do believe that we should pay a portion of Boo's care. I firmly believe that our insurance company should have to pay for her therapies that happen in school, including her ABA therapies. I think some sliding scale should be in place to take some portion of the expense off the community.
However, if I am going to pay privately for Boo's public education than I believe I should also have to pay for my older daughter's music instruction.