Defend Special Education Students in Oakland!
SPEAK-OUT at the Oakland Board of Education Meeting
Wednesday, September 9th – 4:30pm press conference, 5PM speak-out in meeting
La Escuelita, 1050 2nd Avenue (near Lake Merritt BART, entrance to meeting is on 10th St.)
- Defend the Rights Conferred on Students by their Individual Education Plans
- Defend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Stop Antwan Wilson’s Attacks
- No Wholesale “Mainstreaming” or “Inclusion”
- Defend the Full Range of Programs to Support Students with Disabilities
For millions of our students with special needs, there are enormous challenges to overcome in the process of growing up and gaining an education. Their quest for intellectual growth demands great strength from themselves, and necessitates great support from others. These students may have very different abilities than their peers, or may require different means of unlocking and developing their abilities. Some of our students are autistic, others are deaf or blind, many have psychological illnesses or physical disabilities, and many more have learning disabilities or verbal impairments.
All special needs students require attention and resources beyond the scope of general education classrooms. They depend upon Special Education programs to make their education possible. With the help of these programs, millions of students—who otherwise would have been held back or discarded by the system—have been able to learn and to improve their lives. They have proven their potential to fight against adversity. But the greatest challenge to the education of special needs students today is not their own disabilities: the most severe threat to these students now is the ongoing attack against public education in general and against Special Education in particular.
Stop the Attack on Special Education in Oakland
In Oakland, Superintendent Antwan Wilson has announced his intention to move rapidly to place all students served by special education programs into General Education classrooms. This is a cost-slashing measure, and an attack on the rights of students with disabilities and their families. The aim of this policy is to destroy the ability of students and parents to use the Individual Education Plan (IEP) to defend students’ rights.
The language of equity and inclusion that Wilson uses to justify this attack is a cynical lie. It is like Ward Connerly quoting Dr. King while attacking affirmative action. Wilson aims to destroy the guarantee of real equality for students with disabilities that was won out of the last civil rights movement. He must use deception because he knows that his true program is so unpopular with Oakland’s progressive communities that it would have no chance of being carried through. This is an attack on Public Education that is aimed at making public schools indistinguishable from charters. If we allow Special Education Programs to be destroyed, they will never be restored. We must defeat this attack now.
In school districts across the country, students with special needs are increasingly denied access to appropriate resources, and are instead thrown into the general education classrooms in order to reduce the financial cost to the district. This process is often referred to as “mainstreaming,” or even more dishonestly, as “inclusion” or “integration.” But the reality is a process of exclusion, as special needs students lose access to their only plausible means of truly being included in the learning process. Students who are “mainstreamed” and are stranded without adequate support do not feel “included,” they feel left out and left behind. And they’re right.
Nearly six and a half million people—one out of every fifty Americans—are currently public school students who rely upon special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They comprise thirteen percent of all public school students. Their education and their futures are in peril, not through any fault of their own, but because they are among the most vulnerable and most in need of support within our national public school system—and because that school system has become a target for destruction.
Public education and Special Education are both at stake, and in one way or another, all of our students are in the crosshairs of the attack. We must stand up now to defend our special needs students, and in doing so, to defend the right of all students that their diverse needs will be answered and that their myriad talents will be developed.
Public Schools and the Right of All Students to Learn
Starting long before the term existed, Special Education has carried a profound stigma, in part because it runs contrary to the reward-and-punishment culture of modern education and society. Students are generally rewarded for ability, and they compete over who can run the fastest, who can write the most beautiful poem, or who can solve the most complex math problem. The students who languish behind are generally punished, either with demerits or humiliation and usually both. Market competition penetrates into the classrooms, creating and dividing winners and losers among children just as it does among their parents. But Special Education seems to defy the rat race. It devotes its resources to students whose latent abilities are otherwise locked behind some sort of barrier, and even includes students who may never walk or may never speak a single sentence. It casts aside the paradigm of promotion for some, degradation for others. In its own way, Special Education expresses the principle that we are all made better when everyone is the strongest and happiest that they can be.
Public schools proved to be the most fertile soil in which this principle could grow. This age-old battleground has continuously tested the democratic principle of equal opportunity, whether education could be prioritized for the rich, or for men, or for the favored race. And in spite of a multitude of setbacks and shortcomings, public education systems have managed in particular ways to affirm the equal right of all students to learn and to develop their abilities. Such affirmations are among the proudest moments in American history. Special Education likewise became, in spite of countless difficulties, one of the great achievements of the public schools.
Today’s nation-wide attack on public schools has compounded with the attack on Special Education in ways that are grossly inhumane and threaten even the most basic obligations to provide for our students. As special needs students are cast out of vital programs, they often find themselves helplessly abandoned into general classes that increasingly resemble a war of all against all. The swelling class size tends to transform education into an exercise in disciplinary crowd control, and consequently the practice of severe regimentation naturally supersedes the more dynamic, responsive, and participatory forms of learning. The test score-driven regimes always punish the most compassionate teachers—the teachers who dedicate their lives to at-risk, disadvantaged, and disabled students—and so the students frequently lose their most devoted champions.
The new, cutthroat charter marketplace only views students as a kind of commodity—the students can be of value to the marketplace only if they yield the largest return for the smallest investment. Special needs students will never be treated as valuable in such a system. In truth, no students can be treated well in that system. Public education is the only possible refuge for our students, the only hope for a place that will ask what can be given to our students rather than what can be taken away from them.
Special needs students across the country have been experiencing the ubiquitous push towards “mainstreaming” without any connection whatsoever to their individual needs. Class sizes are soaring, Special Education staff has been decimated, and funding reductions are the only consistent policy to be found anywhere. The front-line advocates for these heavily embattled students have been toiling themselves under conditions of perpetually diminishing support. The old words are not enough—special action is necessary.
In every school district and community, we must organize and fight and tell the truth about the real destruction of the public schools. We must carry our intransigent dedication out to the public arena, where the deceitful rhetoric of our opponents will not be able to stand against the organized power and plain truth of students, teachers, and community members fighting for justice. Our special needs students rarely find the means or the opportunity to express themselves outside of our professional work—they deserve that experience, and to discover the strength within them that is waiting to shout to the world.
Contact the EON/BAMN Caucus to join the fight!
(510) 717-6365 On Facebook: “EON/BAMN – Defend Public Education”