Monday, March 30, 2015

"Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values." Ellen DeGeneres

For those who do not know me, I am a HUGE fan and supporter of children and adults with special needs. During my teaching career, which spanned the 37 years from 1974-2011, schools went from having students with special needs be housed in separate schools to the concept of mainstreaming. All of us at school- the teachers, the students, the secretaries, the custodians, and the support staff- had to do some learning, monitoring, and adjusting to make accommodations for our new friends and students with special needs.  

At the beginning, many teachers were nervous, but I enjoy both change and challenge, so I embraced our new school members.  I actually think my students with special needs probably taught me more than I ever taught them, especially at the beginning.  I had two hearing impaired students in the same class. They both read lips, and did not require an interpreter.  They sat near each other, so I always faced them when talking, but I suddenly had a revelation! What about writing on the board? Those students taught me to turn around and face the class when I was speaking, rather than talk to the board while I was hastily writing! I hadnot been teaching very long, and of course that WAS the best practice!  And guess what?  That small act was better for everyone in the class.  Here is another great example of students teaching me. My students with autism needed a routine to feel more comfortable when they walked into my classroom, and they asked if I would put the highlights for the day's lesson on the board every day.  I agreed, and guess what?  It seemed that everyone got on track faster every day. Writing objectives on the board was a practice I had embraced for years, but when I traveled to three or more classrooms during the day and shared chalkboard space with other teachers, writing the daily objectives was not always done.  Those students with autism and Asperger's reminded me of the importance of an established daily routine.

I heard something in the news this week about a student at Parks Elementary School in the Steel Valley School District regarding a student with special needs that really distressed me. This young student has serious pulmonary hypertension, chronic lung problems, foot problems, and autism. She is only in school for two hours per day, because she cannot physically walk to the location of her other classes because of her limitations. She needs to have bathroom facilities nearby, and the nearest restroom is a faculty female bathroom. The student bathroom is on the third floor, and the child cannot physically get to that floor. I, along with many others, was surprised by the decision of the female teachers to file a grievance over this child using their faculty restroom.  The school board did not entertain their grievance, but the entire scenario just hurt my heart. 

I don't care who disagrees with me on this stand - if all of this is true and not just incomplete reporting by the media, I think teachers should care about kids and put them first, whether it be in the classroom or in the bathroom. This young lady deserves respect and the special accommodations she needs to be comfortable at school and to learn.  By law, teachers and administrators must provide those accommodations, because they are responsible for making sure her needs are met so that she can be successful at school. This situation is so simple and uncomplicated, and the school board made the right decision to allow the little girl to use the bathroom. I am not sure what the teachers were thinking, but I do not think they were thinking about what was best for the child.

Here is a link to the story on CBS KDKA news:

And this one in the Monday Tribune Review: 

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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