Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Waste Of 1 1/2 Hours

Tuesday evening I went to the Tooele County School Board meeting to support Action 4 Autism in trying to get more support and services for autism in the public schools. It was a complete and total waste of time. A4A gave a great presentation. Parents and students came forward to talk about the services they need. Most of what they needed was simple awareness from teachers and staff. They related stories of how principals told them they needed to discipline their kids at home, how teachers felt they just couldn't deal with problem behaviors and wouldn't learn how to do so, how funding wasn't available for classroom aides, etc. At the end of a very moving and well-done presentation, A4A offered a list of suggestions, not one of which included more special ed teachers. But then the superintendent said this:
"You have to understand, we're working on it," added Superintendent Michael Johnsen. "You also have to understand, there's a national crisis, a shortage of special education teachers... There are a lot of things we can do. Still, we're short because the nation is short."
That's right, you heard him. This is a problem for (cue patriotic music) Special Ed Teacher! (enter Special Ed Teacher in cape and spandex) Special Ed Teacher, who can save all normal staff from the problems of having to deal with autistic kids! Superintendent Johnsen, immediately after the presentation, ran outside to turn on the spotlight that projects the bright "SE" symbol onto the clouds. Unfortunately, due to Tooele's high winds, the clouds quickly blew away, so the school board went back to handing out shiny award plaques and hearing the petitions of aw-shucks cute kids who want a gym they were already planning to build.

Here's what I wrote to the Tooele Transcript Bulletin as a letter to the editor:
With all due respect to the school board, I don’t think they heard the message of Action 4 Autism at Tuesday’s meeting. I attended that meeting and heard Mr. Johnson’s remark at the end, saying they’d do something about autism if only they could get more special ed teachers. If he’d been listening at all, he’d have known that more special ed teachers were not what A4A was suggesting. What we need most of all is more awareness among school staff of how to deal with autism in a regular classroom setting. You don’t need a degree in special ed to know that; all you need is training. But Mr. Johnson and the school board are stuck on the idea that the way to deal with anything out of the ordinary is to stick it in a special ed classroom. God forbid their normal staff should have to deal with “those” children, when they could be dealing with all the “normal” children instead. This attitude is precisely why I’m seriously considering homeschooling my 7 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome next year. I can’t work with a system that, at heart, doesn’t see a place for my son in it.

Maybe once they get “enough” special ed teachers, the feckless school board will make a plan to create a committee to explore the possibility of studying the problem of autism in the schools. Until then, they’ll just hand out shiny award plaques. They’re good at that.