Re "2 Young Pupils Show Chasm Among Parents of Disabled," Jan. 28: As a teacher at Perez Special Education Center, I would very much like to describe the value of the interaction program we've initiated with a general education school in our neighborhood. Our special education students not only get the benefits of our facility but also the chance to participate in everything from art to music to academics with general education students. Our experience has been that this greatly helps reduce the stigma of being disabled. One of our psychologists, in particular, helps groups of fifth-grade students express their feelings and thoughts about interaction with disabled students through group discussions and journal writing.
There is some real learning going on. Once a week my class of mostly Down's syndrome children interacts with a regular kindergarten class for a lesson on reading. The result--to the amazement and delight of parents in both schools--is that both classes are learning to read and loving it, using a method involving signing that I use here at Perez. Every child is a reader.
* As a longtime special education teacher at one of LAUSD's 18 separate special education schools, I commend your depiction of the issues around full inclusion. However, the article creates two false impressions and may deepen the split among those concerned about the education of children with disabilities at a time when we must be unified in our attempt to reform LAUSD.
The article implies that the only issue in the pending class-action suit against LAUSD is full inclusion versus separate special education schools. But the lawsuit brings forth many violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including most fundamentally LAUSD's failure to provide enough qualified personnel--be they teachers, aides, therapists or psychologists--to deliver the services children with disabilities must have to benefit adequately from their education. If LAUSD complied with the law's requirements, full inclusion would be more widely available and more successful.
Separate special education schools are plagued by the same lack of personnel that permeates special education in LAUSD. The consent decree proposed as a settlement to the pending class-action lawsuit offers an opportunity for the members of LAUSD's special education community to come to grips with its many problems.
* I am councilwoman in Huntington Park and chairperson of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities, a federally funded agency that plans and implements the state plan to serve 135,000 people with developmental disabilities. More importantly, I am the mother of three children, one of them, Eric, a beautiful 10-year-old who has Down's syndrome.
Five years ago Eric was the first child with Down's syndrome to attend Florence Elementary School. Although he was going to be in a special education class, I remember agonizing on that first day of school. I remember leaving him at school and crying on my way back to my car, frightened and fearful of any rejection Eric might be subjected to.
Eric has been in that setting for five years and has learned to read; he writes his name and loves to play on the computer. While he is not fully included all the time, I am thrilled with his placement.
The state council has studied very carefully all placement options in the school system. We take very seriously the right of an individual and family to choose the services and settings which best meet their child's needs. The state council takes special care to support "individual choice" as well as "integration, independence, inclusion and productivity."