A forward: This coming Tuesday, Florida Legislators will vote on whether to hold our Disabled Student population to the same test scores and achievement levels as all other general education students. This could affect overall school grades that will turn our full service schools for our Exceptional Students into "F" schools and force school districts to remove the teachers and administration of the school and replace them with new staff. Our lawmakers are being contacted by teachers, school districts and parents to stop this madness.
An open letter to our esteemed legislators, and our State Commissioner of Education:
On Tuesday, you will be deciding the fate of a large portion of our student population: Exceptional Education Students. Namely, you are voting on whether to grade these students and assign an overall grade to their schools based on their performance on our statewide achievement test.
I am angered at your collective insensitivity to these students and I am appalled by your complete ignorance to their needs. Students under the umbrella of ESE have a broad range of disabilities, from Visual Impairment to Autism, severe Physical or Intellectual Impairments, or a Specific Learning Disability.
I have had the privilege of working with many of these students as a teacher. In college I majored in Exceptional Student Education and spent most of my practical teaching rotation working with special needs students, at Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, at the Anita Yates Center in St. Johns County, and in both self contained classrooms and resource room settings.
These students work as hard, if not harder than their general education peers. Due to their disability there is a gap in their learning. ESE teachers and para-professionals tirelessly work with their students to help them close the learning gap, and prepare them for a life of success and independence. For some students, learning to touch a computer screen to identify an answer, or helping a student gain the strength to sit up in his/her wheelchair is a measurable goal on their Individualized Learning Plan.
The teachers and paras often change diapers and help feed their students, while teaching them to chew and swallow. They are the real heroes and each small step towards independence is celebrated.
For the intellectually disabled student, learning to balance on one foot or identify the letters of their names, memorizing their address or phone number is measured as adequate yearly progress. Does this mean we as educators, parents, and the state do not set high goals for these students? Absolutely not, but we need to look at realistic markers that set an achievable goal, while encouraging, rewarding and supporting those students who learn outside the small box that the state has created as a measure of success.
I challenge each of you to spend a week touring various special needs schools and actually working with these students. Go spend a day in the Deaf Education or Blind Department at our State school.
Spend a few days in a self-contained behavior support classroom helping teach replacement behaviors to Emotional- Behavior Disabled students.
Or spend time at a school that serves severely disabled students, like Alden Road or Mt. Herman here in Duval County, and then go back to the table and compare notes.
Put aside your vain glorious egos and political posturing for a change and listen to the teachers, the para-professionals, and the parents of these students. Or better yet, listen to the future voters for this state- the students themselves.
Causes Annette Talbert Supports
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, RIF (Reading is Fundamental),
Hands On Foundation, Dignity U Wear, Girls, Inc.