The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and numerous laws since then mandate a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment for all children with disabilities. How can Shenandoah County recommend loading some of our students onto the "short bus" and hauling them off to a separate institution from the ones attended by their siblings, friends and neighbors?
We taxpayers are already paying for schools. We pay for the buildings, utilities and staff. Why would we want to pay for yet another set of administrators and teachers, and another building? The school superintendent would probably like us to believe that we would not be paying, but the programs (Medicaid, CSA) which pay for such services are still coming out of our pockets.
What we should be considering is paying for a few teachers specially trained to work with the students we have. The amount of money we have spent in sending those children out of the county would have paid long ago for several specialists or would have trained teachers we already have.
In other jurisdictions, these children are routinely educated in the public schools. More than 20 years ago the school system where I worked began identifying many children with autism. We in special education and related services did not know how to meet the needs of those students, but we were being paid to do that, so we learned. The staff that I have met here are no less professional, no less competent than those I worked with. With support and training, they are just as capable of learning how to meet those students' needs.
To those of you in education, I am not advocating full inclusion. Some children with autism can be taught in the regular classroom with accommodations. Most may not be able to be fully integrated. But segregating them from the mainstream does not allow for any integration and will never provide them an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.
Esther Miller, Woodstock