The Brainerd School District is planning to overhaul how special education services are delivered. My understanding is that under this plan all but a minority of the most gravely disabled students will be placed in mainstream classes and all basic level classes and pull out classes will be eliminated. The exact time frame has not been specified but spring semester starts a pilot at the high school. This is for 10th grade science and replaces a class now co-taught by a special education teacher and a mainstream teacher. It is, however, planned to extend to all grades and all schools in the future. On Oct. 26, this author met with Mr. Razidlo, principal at BHS, Mr. Walseth, superintendent, and Mr. Brown, director, Paul Bunyan Co-op. The meeting was the result of distressing information obtained at fall conferences at the high school. Apparently this plan has been in the works for some time, although only a few were informed and parents, specifically, were not informed. However, as a result of this meeting the district will be holding three public/parent forums on the proposed plans. The first will be in November.
According to the district, they think the special education students will be better served in a mainstream classroom. They think they will perform better academically than in basic level or pullout classes. They say the students will be "supported" but have yet to define what that means. Are the special education teachers going to rotate visiting mainstream classes? Will they sit in their rooms and wait for the students to come to them? Both ways are sure to bring greater stigma to the special education students.
I am concerned how a mainstream teacher is going to manage. The school board preliminary budget calls for larger classes. How will it work to have a larger number of students and a wider variety of learners for one teacher to manage? What does this mean to those who do not have learning needs? Do they get less attention because the teacher needs more time with those who need more help? I see all students being affected, not just those with learning needs.
As a mental health professional I am worried about these students. Many are easily overwhelmed and frustrated because school is so tough anyway. I think they may just give up and drop out. Many will become depressed and anxious. Some are sure to display behavior problems.
I urge all parents, grandparents, guardians, professionals who work with students, taxpayers and voters to attend at least one of the forums. This is a drastic change. Input is needed from all before a decision is made on how to proceed. Whether you agree, disagree or are undecided, please attend. Contact your school board, superintendents and local school officials. We need to remember these are our children and this is our district. Attend the forums and help determine how this will be managed.
ELIZABETH V. DELESANTE is a psychiatrist at Nystrom and Associates, Ltd. in Baxter.
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